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Child literacy the focus of community outreach

Students at U of T Scarborough have been working since 2003 to help children in the community improve their literacy and raise their self-confidence.

The students are volunteer members of Frontier College at U of T Scarborough, a campus chapter of Frontier College, a Canada-wide, volunteer-based, literacy organization.

Partnering with communities in Scarborough, and through informal literacy programs developed by Frontier College, the student volunteers meet with children at least once a week for homework clubs and reading circles, among other literacy-based activities.

"The kids get really excited when our volunteers arrive and they genuinely look forward to the programs," says student Ada Lam, a third-year English and psychology student who is the volunteer development coordinator for the campus chapter.

The students work with six different community partners in Scarborough, and recently began expanding one of their programs to include adults. Members say it is a sign that the organization's efforts are in demand by those whose experiences of poverty and domestic violence have disrupted their progress in formal education.

Many of the children live in shelters, housing cooperatives or marginalized communities. The chapter’s community partners include: Dr. Ross' Healing Place, Juliette's Place, the Gardenview Housing Cooperative, two junior schools, and family residences along Old Kingston Road.

Fourth-year physical sciences student Cryssy Savage has volunteered with the organization for the past three years. She praises the one-on-one learning that characterizes the programs. She explains that the attention children receive from volunteers is important because many of them attend large classes at school, and may spend less time with parents, who are often working multiple jobs.

Savage says that although the transient nature of the shelter communities makes it is difficult to track a particular child’s literacy development over a long period, she has seen children's literacy abilities improve in two to four weeks.

According to Frontier College's fall 2006 newsletter, Gardenview's housing manager is quoted as saying that the weekly homework clubs run by the U of T  Scarborough students are "doing something really necessary and productive, and in some cases, the parents can't do what the volunteers are doing."

 All volunteers are trained in teaching skills, and learn tips on how to interact with children from complex backgrounds. Savage says volunteering with the Frontier College chapter not only provides good teaching experience, but is very rewarding for the volunteers involved, and the benefits far outweigh the challenges. "I learn so much from the kids, and from the different families I work with,” says Savage. “The literacy programs are a two-way learning process."

Frontier College at U of T Scarborough will hold a Literacy Awareness Day on Monday, February 26 from 11 a.m to 3 p.m. in the Student Centre. Information and literature will be available about literacy, government policies, and issues related to immigration and literacy. There will also be a quiz, and giveaways for participants.

The Scarborough campus chapter office is located in SL226B. You can visit its web site at It is one of more than 50 student volunteer organizations on campuses across Canada that work with Frontier College to promote literacy in the community. Frontier College has been known since 1899 for its literacy outreach programs. Visit for more details.

Denise Tse is a second-year arts student at U of T Scarborough.


© University of Toronto Scarborough