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Joy Holmes 1760 Announces Retirement

Lower School Literacy Specialist Joy Holmes 1760 is the Mayor of Alphabetia. Where, you may ask, is this fictional village where Holmes wears a crown and is often the favorite subject, verb, and adjective of the townsfolk? Why it's right on the second floor of the Lower School, and it has been Holmes’ home away from home for the past 27 years. A village designed from the imagination of Holmes and physically built by the Petras Family, Alphabetia provides GA’s youngest learners with the tools to explore literacy safely, joyously, and in good company.

“While the Grand Wizardess of Alphabetia may be retiring her scepter, there is absolutely no doubt that her magic will live on and continue to instill in GA students both aptitude in and love for reading,” said Head of School Rich Schellhas 1760. “Joy’s legacy embodies everything that is special about GA. Each and every day she brings her incredible skill, enthusiasm, creativity, flexibility, and care to the students lucky enough to cross the moat and enter the wonder of her kingdom. Joy’s dedication to her students and our school have made the most important of a difference for decades of kids needing just the right teacher, just the right nudge, and just the right new way of looking at things to become confident readers. Her book of magic has a fresh page for every student – each deserves an individualized path toward unlocking the mystery of a word, and she paved, lit, and celebrated those paths with expertise and kindness. What a gift to be able to help so many students find their path, and what a gift to GA Joy Holmes is.”

What Holmes brought to the children of GA from her land of make-believe was very real. A forever love of teaching led her to the classroom when her own children, Steve ’01 and Kristyn ’04, began their schooling at GA. What they didn’t know at the time is that the Holmes family would be expanding in a few short years by five when Madam Adam Apple, Iggy Igloo, Eddie Elephant, Ollie Octopus, and Ummy Umbrella also started school at GA. 

“The creation of Alphabetia and the development of a creative framework for highlighting targeted phonics ‘rules’ and generalizations supporting explicit, systematic word study in the classroom is one of my proudest accomplishments,” said Holmes. “It is a great responsibility and opportunity to welcome our youngest students into the world of literacy and help them navigate the learning to read and write process in a fun and successful way so that it is something they know they can, and want, to do.”

Holmes is apt to give credit where credit is due, and she lauds her colleagues for several ways they have helped make her adage, “How can we do it better?” successful.

“Working with my colleagues to develop a high-quality literacy program is something that has challenged and motivated me,” Holmes stated. “Together we have strived to deepen our understanding of student learning and best practices. GA is so fortunate that its administration recognized the importance of early intervention and that literacy supports at all grade levels can be led by our own literacy specialists. The creation of the Language Network, Readers and Writers Workshop, and Leveled Libraries are especially dear to me.”

While Holmes is looking forward to reconnecting with family and friends and enjoying time hiking, biking, gardening, traveling, volunteering, and playing tennis and golf, her puppet friends with the amazing names will live on in their Alphabetia home, awaiting the next group of children to befriend.

“I love GA because of the kids,” said Holmes. “Literacy is really everything – it is the backbone of all of our learning. I love welcoming our youngest readers into the world of literacy. I love the light in the eyes of a first grader when they crack the code as much as I love watching a fourth grader immersed in a series they love. My hope for all the children that I have had the pleasure to teach is that they take away identities and habits as readers and the motivation and confidence to develop skills and strategies to navigate obstacles and continue to grow as readers and writers. I love learning about these students’ journeys to graduation and beyond.”

Extra Credit


Why Joy stayed:

The kids, the families, my colleagues. GA is a place where I could learn and grow, exercise my creativity, and effect change. I will always cherish the connections, relationships, and friendships.

Biggest lesson Joy has learned from her students:

To treasure the little things and to savor the small moments.

What will she miss most:

The families who volunteer in Alphabetia who join in the lessons singing, dancing, and becoming word wizards right along with the kids. 

The Piszek Family Book Donation for the Lower School students. With technology changing the landscape of childhood, it is wonderful to see reading promoted as a gift that brings people together, impacts their learning, and helps shape who they are.

Favorite GA tradition:

The ceremonial Flag Raising and singing of the alma mater to begin the school year and the graduates circling the Quad in June. 

Memorable quotes to live by:

“The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts."

"You have to touch the heart to teach the mind."

"If a child cannot learn in the way we teach, we must teach in a way the child can learn."

The next chapter of life:

Happy times with family and friends. Reading! Perhaps a little dabbling in writing books for early readers.

Joy Holmes Teaching Alphabetia


Send Joy a Note!
Joy would love to hear from alumni, parents, and colleagues.


Honor Joy with a Gift to GA!
Making a gift to the school in honor of Joy's retirement is a wonderful way to celebrate his tenure at GA.