Trinity College School KEY INSIGHTS
Each school is different. Trinity College School's Feature Review excerpts disclose its unique character. Based on discussions with the school's alumni, parents, students, and administrators, they reveal the school’s distinctive culture, community, and identity.
What we know
- Trinity College School is one of Canada’s oldest boarding schools, and it shows in its traditions and the sense of reverence and pride that pervades the culture.
- The school provides a fairly structured, village-like boarding environment.
- The pattern of excellence among alumni at the school inspires students to aim high.
Our editor speaks about the school (video)
Trinity College School is one of the oldest boarding schools in Canada and, having been founded two years prior to Confederation, is older than the country itself. While it looks entirely different than it did when it was founded—there are no original buildings, nor does it sit at the same site as it did in 1865—the core values remain: quality academics with an eye to educating students into positions of social, professional, and political leadership.
“I’ll never forget my first day of Grade 9,” says alumna Jocelyn Murphy. “Looking up in Osler Hall and seeing some 40 flags hanging from the ceiling. Around me was this incredible mini United Nations of kids, and I felt like the luckiest person in the world.”
Each day begins, for both boarders and day students, in chapel. The students file in and then two of the student prefect leaders close the chapel doors and take their seats. The students sit quietly, some gazing off into space, though even if they’re still shaking off sleep, there’s a sense of respect in the room. No phones are out. Students pick up the hymn book when the organ starts, they stand, and they sing. “It’s my favourite part of the day,” says one student. “I just like how it brings the school together.”
ON THE BOARDING ENVIRONMENT
Though not all students are boarders, the culture of boarding pervades the entire school. Teachers tend to arrive early and stay late. There are always snacks available in the dining hall. There’s always life on campus. It is a place where people don’t just sleep and study, but truly live. TCS is a boarding school, and the ethos of boarding—that this is a place both to learn and live—filters into the life of the school.
“Trinity is a boarding school with day students,” says student Ryan Kirkaldy, as opposed to “a day school with boarding students.” That was important for him and no doubt many others. “I couldn’t see myself in a place where the school just clears out on the weekends. That was a big thing.”
The school feels like a lively, complete, cohesive village, which for the most part it is. When a student says “everything is close by,” it’s a reference to all of that: the essentials, as well as a true social life and an ever-present support system.
Port Hope isn’t large, and therefore it doesn’t upstage the school in the view of the students: the town experience is ancillary to the campus experience, rather than the other way around, as can be the case in boarding schools located in larger urban centres and those that have larger percentages of day students.
ON THE SENSE OF PRIDE AND TRADITION
The students conduct the tours with obvious respect for the school, delighted to have a chance to show it off. Our guide said, “The one thing I really want people to know is about the community feel and the culture that is here. When you go out during the day, you see everybody in the learning commons, talking, hanging out—you just get a great feel.” You can tell he means it.
“My uncle is that gentleman up there,” says Steph Feddery, pointing to one of the portraits that look down from the walls of the dining hall. “It is fascinating, when you look around and see the history and the names.”
In 2017, TCS participated in its 150th cricket tournament with Upper Canada College. The first tournament was held in 1867—the same year Canada became a country—and the teams have met yearly ever since. “How many schools can say they have a 150-year history of participating in a sport?” says Tim White, who over the course of a long career at TCS was responsible for maintaining and growing the athletic program. “Being part of the school, you’re a keeper of that tradition.” If the tournament were just a few years old, White expects far fewer students would be keen to take part. Tradition can be a unique motivator.
ON THE SCHOOL’S VALUES
Academic achievement is highly valued—this is a school, as many will tell you, where it is cool to be smart. Achievement is also regularly rewarded. “I have a citizenship pin,” says Ben Traugott, former Head Boy and Class of 2019, “a few scholar’s pins, Remembrance Day, the arts pin. I was also captain of the swim team.” Those, as well as recognition in chapel, are means of letting students know that their efforts are recognized, something which permeates the delivery of the program.
“I believe that demanding a lot of students is a compliment to them,” says Piccini. “Too often, [educational] environments are warm and casual, and then they bleed out, because that’s all they are. But we have very high expectations for our kids in all areas: comportment, thinking, respect. And we demand of them in a most compassionate and understanding way. And I love the marriage between the two—which I think is quite unique to this school.”
Service is central to the ethos of the school, as underscored by a robust program of service-learning dedicated to developing opportunities within the local community and beyond. … The stated mission of the school is “developing habits of the heart and mind for a life of purpose and service.” It’s a bit of a mouthful, but that mission is apparent throughout the school.
Is it possible to be a happy, fulfilled B student at TCS? “Absolutely,” says Headmaster Stuart Grainger, without missing a beat. “University stats and all that kind of stuff, that’s not where we’re truly satisfied. I think if you’re a genuine educator and a genuine teacher, you just want to have an impact on a kid’s life.”
ON THE STUDENT COMMUNITY
The general atmosphere is one of students who are thoughtful, confident, and appreciative of the opportunity to attend the school. There are perhaps schools in the country where privilege is the main takeaway, though TCS isn’t one of them.
Upon entering the school, Jocelyn Murphy presented as perhaps the typical student at TCS: smart, capable, yet needing a bit of inspiration and pizzazz to truly motivate her to reach further and achieve more. “For lack of a better explanation,” says Murphy, “I was a very bright student in high school and academics came easily to me. My teachers recognized this, along with the fact that this brightness made me lazy at times.” At TCS, she was pressed to take Advanced Placement courses, study languages, and get involved in areas beyond her core interests, including equal representation of humanities and sciences. “My teachers recognized my abilities and my weaknesses, and supported me to tailor my course load accordingly. … [It] taught me the importance of challenging myself to strive for something greater when I went to university, as there was no one there to hold my hand.”
The school is dedicated to diversity within the student population, and a robust program of financial aid is the main means of developing it. It’s the second largest scholarship and bursary program of its kind in the country.
Students seem genuine in their appreciation of the school’s international character. “It exposes you to so many experiences that you usually wouldn’t be able to have,” says student Nathan Titterton. “I have friends from all over the world, have been exposed to so many other cultures, and done things that I never would have even thought of doing prior to coming to TCS.”
ON SCHOOL ALUMNI
The alumni list includes some great Canadians, of which the school is rightly proud. … At least some of the alumni of the school remain fairly rabid in their engagement with one another and with the school. There is a range of opportunities for alumni to keep in touch, including groups in Canada and beyond.
ON THE ACADEMIC ENVIRONMENT
TCS is one of 10 schools in Canada chosen to pilot the Advanced Placement (AP) Capstone Diploma, a two-year program of study for Grade 11 and 12 students that emphasizes critical thinking, collaborative problem solving, and research skills in a cross-curricular context … The AP Capstone Diploma allows TCS graduates to distinguish themselves on international university applications, particularly in the U.S. and U.K.
“We’re carrying 121 different courses,” says Myke Healy, director of teaching and learning. That’s a hefty amount, particularly for a school of this size. The intention, says Healy, is to maximize choice. “If a student can pick their courses, there’s a commitment to the learning.”
Class sizes are on the smaller side, typically in the 12 to 20 range. Technology is a component of all the learning spaces, with Wifi and Smart Boards throughout. Students in the Senior School are required to have a laptop, and communication, research, course information, and many assignments are completed, submitted, and reviewed online.
Students maintaining an 86% average or above are free to manage their study schedules and can study in their dorm, the library, or anywhere else on campus. Students who have lower grades are required to study in assigned classrooms, during prescribed times and under supervision. Independence is fostered, not assumed.
ON SCHOOL LEADERSHIP
Stuart Grainger has been the headmaster since 2004, one of a long line of impressive leaders. … During his tenure at TCS, he has focused on addressing students’ lifestyles and ensuring a balance between achievement and rejuvenation (“I don’t want kids stressed. I don’t want them worn out”). He’s a great communicator, very outgoing, affable, and informal. He speaks quickly and is unabashedly confident in what TCS can offer (“I’ve had three kids here, and they happen to think it’s the best school on the planet”). He’s universally liked by the students, all of whom he appears to know by name. That’s impressive, given that there are over 560 of them. He maintains a blog with regular, well-composed entries.
THE OUR KIDS REPORT: Trinity College School
Next steps to continue your research: