With a large percentage of Black students – mostly boys – failing to make the grade in the public education system, Dr. Ronald Blake established Higher Marks Educational Institute (HMEI) in 1979 as an alternative private institution to provide specialized tutoring to struggling students.
Nearly 7,000 young people have passed through the remedial and intervention program in the past three decades with many now excelling in myriad professional fields.
Charlene Currie is one of those success stories.
Unable to read at age seven even though she was enrolled in public school, Currie’s parents registered their youngest daughter in HMEI’s Saturday morning program.
“Financially, things were difficult at the time because my father was laid off, but my parents still found the money for me to stay in the program,” recalled Currie at HMEI’s Higher Motivation Event last Saturday at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). “I found the teachers to be very supportive and knowledgeable and they instilled confidence in me to excel to the point that I started to read well, my Math mark improved and I was ahead of my class within a year of joining Higher Marks.”
Currie left HMEI in Grade Nine, completed high school with honours and spent a year at Humber College pursuing Public Relations studies before transferring on an entrance scholarship to York University to study Sociology.
After graduating in 2004 with her degree, TD Canada Trust – with whom Currie worked part-time through an agency in their call centre while in university – offered the new grad full-time employment.
Currie returned to Humber part-time in 2007 to pursue Project Management studies and was assigned to TD’s headquarters after graduating with a certificate a year later. She was recognized for her leadership with the Vision in Action Award which is the company’s highest honour recognizing the “best of the best” and last May promoted to Operations Manager.
Possessing an insatiable thirst to gain higher education, Currie approached Blake last September seeking help to prepare for an MBA.
“I told him I was a bit rusty and I needed help in a few areas,” she said. “After telling me at first he didn’t think he had the capacity because he was constantly teaching and providing private lessons, he found at least three hours each week to help me reconnect the dots, especially in Math.”
With Blake’s assistance, Currie was admitted to the prestigious University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business. One of three Blacks in a class of 56, she expects to graduate next year.
The 29-year-old acknowledged that HMEI is largely responsible for her success.
“It provides a forum that is needed,” she said. “Whereas teachers in the public school system, because of large class sizes, might not be able to provide the direct one-on-one care that you need as a student because you have specialized needs, Higher Marks fills that gap.”
Currie encouraged students to go to HMEI with pride and embrace what they are taught by teachers who are interested in their development.
“You will face challenges, but don’t give up,” she told the young people. “Keep on going on and be resilient, tenacious and have faith. Things might not work out in your favour today, but remember that there always is a tomorrow.”
Blake, who holds degrees in extension education and sociology and political studies and a doctorate in religious studies, is extremely proud of Currie’s success and the fact that HMEI has been able to tutor and recover many students who have emerged as productive citizens.
“We believe that high standards of instruction, high expectations, firm discipline, clear measures of evaluating performance and genuine encouragement on the part of teachers create highly motivated and self-confident learners,” he said.
“That is what we have set out to contribute by holding this Higher Motivation Event. Our children must be motivated and given positive models to follow. That is why we are here.”
Students were presented with awards in various categories.
They were Italo Caynes and Myles McBain (Most Improved), Christopher Edwards (Discipline), Julian McDonald (Effort), Kadeem Jackson, Jathony Mortimore and Emmanuel Sterling (Citizenship), Erik Cooper (Creativity) and Shenelle Figueroa and Asmaa Omer (Neatness & Organization).
In addition to the Saturday Morning tutorial program, HMEI also offers tutoring in Reading, English, Math and Science on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Classes are limited to a maximum of 11 students who dress in navy blue pants or skirts, white Higher Marks shirts, navy blue ties and black shoes.
Additional information is available on their website at www.highermarks.com.