Tom Yonge

Top 40 Under 40 2012

Photography Pedersen

Age: 31

Job Title: High school teacher

Why He’s Top 40: Through creative leadership programs, he’s encouraged kids to give back to the community even after high-school graduation.

Key To Success: “Sometimes by giving to others, you’re getting more yourself.”

Tom Yonge moves one of the wheeled desks in his classroom, demonstrating how he gets his students to sit in circles for class. He’s so enthusiastic about teaching students leadership skills at Strathcona High School, that he’d probably hop up on that desk la Mr. Keating of Dead Poets Society if not for its wheels. He wants kids to “seize the day” so he doesn’t rely on textbooks but, instead, community projects that challenge students’ ideas of limitations.

Five years ago, when Yonge started at the school, there was a lone leadership class but now, there are nine sections, spanning Grades 10 to 12. “We’re trying to make it so students don’t want to miss out,” he says. And they don’t. In fact, some kids with schedules too full for the regular classes opt to take sessions on early mornings and weekends.

In 2011, 10th graders nearly tripled the previous year’s already impressive record, raising $14,000 selling cupcakes and bacon, and donating funds to the Mustard Seed and Youth Empowerment & Support Services. While Yonge’s quick to say it’s not about money, he knows the numbers show their excitement. “None of them were upset about having to work hard. They loved it.”

By the 11th grade, his students are entrepreneurs in the non-profit sector. And by the 12th grade, the scope expands so they’re raising funds for global initiatives. Last year, students raised money for micro-loans, helping individuals in developing countries start their own businesses. They did it by converting the classroom into a restaurant and learning serving practices from Patrick Saurette, owner of The Marc. In the end, the entire school pitched in through fundraising efforts and raised over $56,000. It equalled 3,300 loans (double their goal), which have already been repaid and lent out again.

Yonge has witnessed shy kids become confident, an autistic student inspire peers and plenty of pupils continue to serve the community beyond graduation. In fact, he and a former student founded a program that helps with the school’s big events and retreats. “They don’t just leave and stop … they go out and do things. I’ll never know the ripple effects.”

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