Trent Students for Literacy: Where Students Learn to Teach

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash.

Community involvement is an integral part of university life, and Trent Students for Literacy (TSL) has numerous volunteer opportunities for students who want to engage and offer a helping hand in the community.

Originally known as Frontier College, TSL was founded in 2000. TSL has been receiving a refundable levy since their inception, now worth $2.33 per full-time undergraduate student, per academic year. However, the Ford government’s new Student Choice Initiative (SCI) legislation has made funding for all student levy groups, including TSL, precarious – leaving this and other important groups at Trent in a vulnerable position.

Olivia Tulloch, fourth-year Trent student and chair of TSL, has been working with the organization since her first year. She said in a statement to Arthur that the SCI “directly affects TSL as we have no idea if [the group will] get any funding.”

“We were asked to provide a document justifying why Trent Students for Literacy should continue to receive the funding it gets but the decision is out of our hands.”

As she explained, TSL’s mission “is to encourage literacy in all its forms while connecting Trent to the broader Peterborough community.” This group is entirely operated and staffed by students who volunteer their free time to help others in our community.

Levy revenue is used in a number of ways, which can be found in their 2018-2019 budget, found here. Tulloch listed some expenses which include volunteer appreciation (meals for meetings, training sessions, thank-you gifts for volunteers), program resources (snacks, books, flashcards, craft supplies, staff shirts), TSL’s annual literacy conference and – when the budget allows – stress-busting kits for the Trent community during exams.

TSL offers a range of programming, currently operating four programs and hoping to start a fifth. Programming includes Reading Circle, School Sidekicks, One-on-One Tutoring and Seniors Outreach.

Through the Reading Circle program, student volunteers visit the Trent Childcare Centre to read to children for half an hour, twice a week. The School Sidekicks program takes student volunteers into classrooms at Armour Heights Elementary School to provide students and teachers with any additional help that is needed.

The One-on-One Tutoring program, Tulloch explained, is “where volunteers are paired with one or more students at the K-8 level. The volunteer helps the student in subjects where the student could use some extra help.”

Finally, the Seniors Outreach program pairs student volunteers with community members from Riverview Manor, to interact and promote literacy by playing board games or reading with seniors, for example, for one hour per week.

TSL plans to expand their School Sidekicks program to include another set of programs for secondary students at the 9-12 level. Despite this ambition, if the SCI leads to budget cuts for many student groups, expanding programming will be unlikely without seeking alternative funding.

TSL hosts an annual literacy conference on Trent University’s Symons Campus. Each year, three guest speakers are invited to speak about literacy. This event is free for students and community members to attend, and counts as a required workshop for students in the Education Stream at Trent University. This event takes place in January and boasts “a wide variety of literacy-related topics [which are] discussed in workshops led by professionals from around Ontario,” as the TSL website explains.

In addition to the workshops, volunteers in the Education Program can also use their hours working with TSL towards their degree requirements. This is a great opportunity not only for Education students, but for students in any discipline who wish to engage with the wider community and help those who need it in a fun, interactive way, whilst gaining hands-on experience.

Tulloch described some of the positive experiences that she has had working with TSL. For example, while she was involved in the precursor to the current School Sidekicks program most teachers needed volunteers to help in their classrooms, and loved having the extra support. During family literacy days at the Peterborough Public Library, volunteers dress up as mascots of popular children’s characters and it is fulfilling to see how happy the children are as they run up to hug the mascots.

TSL is an especially meaningful organization to volunteer with in Tulloch’s case, “I am not from Peterborough, [so it is] a great experience to get out and see Peterborough… it gives a wider perspective outside of university.” Now, as the chair, she enjoys seeing different “groups of people come together and [working] towards making sure the programs run smoothly.”

To find out more or to get involved, contact TSL by email at: or visit their website.

About Sadie Kotze 7 Articles
Sadie Kotze is in her third year at Trent, pursuing a joint-major BAH in Gender & Women's Studies and Political Studies. She enjoys writing about social, political and environmental justice. She loves dogs, the outdoors, soccer, snowboarding and cooking. (She/her/they/them).