Out of the class and into the community

TCS’s service learning program provides the hands-on experience of giving back

For students, the experience of giving time to an important cause or non-profit organization can be life-changing. That’s the rationale for the Ontario requirement of 40 hours of community service in high school. But at Trinity College School, in Port Hope, Ontario, service learning goes far beyond the provincial requirements. “For us, it’s an understanding that with privilege comes the responsibility of serving others and giving back to our community,” says Kim Vojnov, the school’s service learning program director. 

TCS’s service learning program is multifaceted and involves several opportunities for students to get involved and give their time. “Through this program, we are able to help our students become leaders and develop character and vision,” says Vojnov. “And, they have a lot of fun doing it.”

Service learning as a co-curricular

The school’s co-curricular programming includes arts, athletics, and service. As such, students have the opportunity to go into the community and volunteer with numerous organizations on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. “They have multiple sites they can choose from, and we as a school now have about 80 community partners, both locally and beyond, that we work with.” 

Beyond TCS's pool of community partners, there are often more urgent matters that students are eager to help with. In September, for example, the main building of Beyond the Blue Box, a local, affordable retail outlet for reusable items, had a major fire. “They needed our support relocating and we sent kids to help,” says Vojnov. “Our local Humane Society also moved locations this fall, so again they needed more volunteers and we stepped up.”

The relationship the school forges with local organizations is mutually beneficial. “The student leadership piece is huge when you’re on a volunteer site,” says Vojnov. “The skills the students walk away with when it comes to taking responsibility and acting as leaders are invaluable. These kids are really able to step up in a meaningful way. And, they often are pleasantly surprised by how much fun they have doing it.” 

TCS also has many clubs and trips with a focus on service learning. From the Trinity Environmental Action Club to the social justice group, to supporting local groups like Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Rebound Youth tutoring services, there are tons of ways for students to get involved. 

Week Without Walls

Above and beyond all of this, there’s one week of the year that’s extremely special to the TCS community. “We call it the Week Without Walls,” says Vojnov. “We cancel most classes and go out into the community to volunteer.” 

This is the same week the school's service learning trips take place, often to an international destination where students can contribute to a cause such as environmental service or other local community needs. The rest of the students use this opportunity to work at a specific site for the majority of the week. The students get to make their top choices from a pool of 70 organizations from among Durham, Peterborough, Belleville, and Quinte, and they are each assigned one. 

“The Week Without Walls takes place during the first week of December each year and we send 600 people out into the community to do some really important work. The classroom becomes the real world, and it’s very powerful.” 

At the end of the week, there’s a group debriefing session followed by a guest speaker. “We also have a student film crew whose job it is to capture all of the experiences students are having and put them together in a film to show during this session,” says Vojnov. “It’s a way for everyone to see the impact we’ve had.” 

TCS’s service learning program has been growing steadily for the past 15 years and the result is something special. “The students learn that every little bit helps and while something may not seem like a big deal on its own, every good deed creates a domino effect,” says Vojnov. “We find many students create lasting relationships with organizations and charities that go far beyond their time here at TCS. This is how we raise young adults who are eager to contribute and give back throughout their lives.” 

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