Friday, February 10, 2006

Message from an Alumnus #2

Hi everyone,

Back in October, we posted a message that we received from a former Frontier College Ottawa Volunteer and Organizational Team Member Theresa Sedore. She has since left us to go to Teacher's College at Lakehead and is volunteering with Frontier College there. You can read her post HERE.

After that, I thought it might be interesting to see if there are other former Ottawa volunteers out there who are volunteering for Frontier College in other cities. Sure enough, Trevor Sinker, who volunteered with us for the last few years, is now at Queens and volunteering in their Prison Literacy Program. Here's what he had to say:

Tutoring elementary school children at a community centre and an inmate at a maximum-security prison may seem to have nothing in common. In fact, the opposite is true. The only difference is the venue. Granted, this is a major variation. There are no metal detectors, armed guards and bars on the windows at the community centre. Yet at its core, literacy tutoring encompasses common characteristics.

I’ll outline a few, but first offer some context.

I tutored elementary school students at a Frontier College homework club run by Sage Youth at a community centre in Ottawa. I currently volunteer with the Prison Literacy program as a part of Queen’s Students for Literacy program in Kingston. I tutor a gentleman at the Regional Treatment Centre, which is a maximum-security facility for men with special needs located inside the Kingston Penitentiary.

Tutoring Observations

Desire - A desire to learn is unmistakable. The learners (both the children and inmate) recognize the value of reading and understand that tutoring is the tool to help them improve their literacy skills.

Dedication – Learning grammar and spelling is difficult and it is a continual process that requires dedication. All of the learners I have tutored remind me of the tortoise who beat the hare. Slow but steady advancement is more productive than a burst of initial interest that quickly dissipates.

Persistence – The learners persist in their struggle to acquire stronger literacy skills. They don’t give up easily, and when discouragement creeps in, a tutor’s encouraging words works wonders to get them back on track.

Training Tools – All of my learners brought coursework with them (including the inmate who attends classes), but sometimes I prepared lesson plans. The specific subjects varied, but I tried to incorporate reading material that was interesting, fun, and tailored to the learner’s interests. A discourse on quantum physics was clearly inappropriate.

Conversation – Literacy tutoring encompasses much more than dictionaries, fill-in-the-blank question sheets and spelling lists. It also involves engaging in conversation and connecting with the learner – and the benefits are reciprocal. Learners gain important skills sets such as leadership qualities, better communication skills and analytical abilities. Tutors gain an appreciation of different perspectives, and learn interesting trivia on topics as diverse as monster trucks and volcanoes.

Accomplishments – I’m not idealistic. I have not approached tutoring with expectations of transforming an inmate or sixth grade student into a literary critic or devoted fan of Shakespeare. Patience is absolutely necessary because literacy tutoring takes diligence and time. When it comes to literacy, small accomplishments are huge victories. I have witnessed many such victories, which are very gratifying.

I have enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) volunteering with Frontier College. Assisting others to improve their literacy skills is tremendously satisfying. It’s a process that requires devotion from the tutor and learner – whether it is a 10-year old student or a middle-aged inmate. Despite the challenges, tutoring is an amazing opportunity that has granted me a glimpse into the learning process of others. To join with them in celebrating their accomplishments is a remarkable privilege.

- Trevor Sinker


At 6:06 PM, Blogger Triona Trog said...

hello Louise,
I just found your comment on my post about the Frontier College summer camps. They were run for the first time in the summer of 2005 (Starbucks funded the program). We had six paid staff plus the Alberta program coordinator. There were also programs in Vancouver and I think Toronto. A total of six 3 - week camps were held over summer, and all had full registration (10-12 kids in each). Email me if you want to know more and have fun in Ottawa!! I love that city



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