Feeling that the city’s public school system was not providing her only child with the best possible chance to succeed, Michelle Herbert enrolled 11-year-old Jahmal Herbert last September in the Scarborough-based Higher Marks Educational Institute’s (HMEI) full-time program.
Established in 1979 by Jamaican-born Dr. Ron Blake, Canada’s first Black accredited school is an alternative private institution providing specialized schooling to struggling students.
Nearing seven months into the program, Herbert said she made the right choice.
“Jahmal was doing OK in public school, but I found he was not being encouraged,” she said. “The teachers were not supportive and open to suggestions about things like Black history. It seems they were not prepared to go beyond their call of duty. In the past few months, my son’s confidence has risen dramatically and he takes leadership roles. He is also excelling in reading, which was a subject he was not fond of and he’s taking the initiative to read more. I am very happy with his progression because I can see he’s flourishing in a positive learning environment.”
Herbert said she has recommended the program to other family members and friends.
“I know not everybody can afford to put their child in the program because there is a cost attached to it, but it’s worth the financial sacrifice if you can manage it,” said the University of Toronto graduate and tutor. “Graduating from university was a huge step for me and I want my son to do the same while confronting fewer hurdles than I did during my journey. I am so happy I found Higher Marks and my son will be there up until Grade Eight.”
Full-time private schooling fees are about $700 while the cost of attending the Saturday morning and weekday evening programs is approximately $300.
Nearly 25 years ago, Dorothy Reid-Grant and her husband were driving past HMEI when they noticed the young kids neatly dressed in uniforms. The school was located on Bathurst St. at the time.
“Our young son was struggling in school, so we decided, after checking out Higher Marks, to enroll him even though we had moved from the Bathurst St. & Eglinton Ave. W. area where the school was located to Scarborough,” said the mother of two.
Starting out in the summer program, Errol Grant transitioned to the Saturday Morning program, where he spent four years. Now, 34, Grant – a barber – is married with two children.
Ecstatic with her son’s transformation, Reid-Grant enrolled her daughter, Makeda Grant, at age three and she spent a decade at HMEI.
“Higher Marks made me smarter and I was pretty advanced when I entered elementary school a year later,” said Grant, who is an assistant property manager with a corporate real estate company and a tutor with the City of Toronto Adaptive Programs and Integrated Services. “It made me responsible and I was taught structure, time management and how to be a better person.”
In her role with the City of Toronto, Grant encountered a young student in the adaptive program for individuals with special needs and disabilities who was having difficulty learning. Based on her positive and fulfilling experience at HMEI, she recommended Higher Marks to his mother, who enrolled him in the full-day program last September.
Blake’s eldest daughter, Harvia Gray, runs the school’s daily operations. The program includes material pertaining to inspirational African-Canadian role models and Africentric subjects that enable students to stay connected with what they are learning.
“This program is necessary because the regular school system is inundated with things like large class sizes and minimal funding that does not provide for enough teachers and assistance in the classroom,” said Gray. “Students are coming to us because they are finding difficulty in getting the attention they require. Their needs are not addressed in a regular classroom setting. With us, the focus is on their needs and we address that through classes of between seven and eight working in 90-minute segments covering the core subjects like science, English and math.
“Since 1979, we have tutored and recovered over 7,000 Black students, the vast majority of whom are successful professional people in every walk of life. 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.”
Last Saturday, HMEI held a Motivation Day event at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus.
“We want our students to be motivated by other Black persons who have not only faced the same problems, but who have overcome them with stunning achievements,” said Gray. “The aim is for the kids to leave here today fully convinced of their true potential.”
Classes are limited to a maximum 11 students who dress in navy blue pants or skirts, white shirts, navy blue ties and black shoes.
Though retired since September 2011, Blake still tutors a few students who are in desperate need of specialized assistance at his private residence.
By RON FANFAIR