Oldest African American Charter School in Houston Celebrates 50 Years of Commitment to Education

PICTURED ABOVE: Beatrice Mayes

Receiving a great education for their children has been one of the primary focuses of nearly every African American parent for decades. With that being said, very few schools and very few people in the Greater Houston area have achieved greater success in helping satisfy the desire of parents to ensure their children received a quality education, than has the Beatrice Mayes Institute Charter School (BMI) and its namesake, Houston’s own Beatrice Mayes.

Many people in the Greater Houston area have probably never heard of Mayes, or her 50-year standing as one of the most effective, award-winning scholastic institutions in Texas.

For those who are unaware of this highly-respected African American private/charter academic institution in the city of Houston, it is important to gain a little insight on a school that has stood strong and relevant against all odds for 50 years, and whose students perform well above the state accepted performance level. Established in 1966, the Beatrice Mayes Institute Charter School is the oldest African American school of its kind in Houston, Texas.

Mayes, the visionary founder and principal of the school, has been championing a legacy of achievement since inception, leading the school to receive academic recognition and experience success that very few schools or school districts have received in the State of Texas. Mayes was a young, Black woman in her early 20s, during the 1960s, who had recently graduated from Texas Southern University. As a newly married wife, she had a dream and a vision of owning an affordable institution that would educate young, Black children at the highest level. Initially, it seemed like an impossible dream, so Mayes decided to take a job at Memorial Hospital, not knowing that this particular hospital job would open the door of opportunity to help her fulfill her dream. After several encounters of listening to a group of mothers at the hospital talk about how expensive good child care was, Mayes knew she had to move on and execute her plans.

Mayes opened the Wonderland Private School (Pre-K) in October 1966, with 30 pre-kindergarten and first grade students, and each parent paid $12.50 a week. Business was great in terms of the number of students, but like any start-up business, the school began to experience some financial difficulties. Mayes, and her husband, put everything they had into the school and faced a fateful point of possibly losing the building they had, within 24 hours if they didn’t come up with only $300. Mayes got up early one morning and went door-to-door in the community, and had raised enough money within 12 hours to save the school. The efforts and support that the community extended to her that day is why the school is still in existence 50 years later.

Located in Houston’s historic Third Ward, BMI is a state-funded school consisting of grades Kindergarten through the 8th grade and is fully accredited by the Southern Association of College and Schools. BMI ranks in the top 1 percent among all schools in Texas. While many other schools and school districts suffer from heavy turnover and low scores, BMI has consistently maintained quality educators, the highest school-wide academic achievement scores and exemplary status year-after-year. Their curriculum is one of the most rigorous in Texas, rivaling magnet and vanguard programs and their students perform one to two grade levels ahead.

Mayes believes her teaching style and approach to education is what has set BMI apart from other schools in Houston and across Texas. Attending Beatrice Mayes Institute has become a family tradition for generations, because students not only gain a great education, but also valuable lessons and lifelong friendships.

“Educating children over the last 50 years has been the most rewarding and fulfilling experience of my life and I would do it again for another 50 years,” said Mayes. “Parents are proud when they see the difference in their child and the development they receive at our school. Our results are consistent and it is my sincere hope and prayer that Beatrice Mayes Institute Charter School continues to grow and make a sustainable difference in the lives of more Houston children.”

As the school prepares for its 50th anniversary in October, BMI is steadily preparing for the next 50 years. In May 2014, the school bought the property that sits adjacent to it to build a new high school with a focus on STEM. With the help of the community and fundraising, Mayes and her staff hope to have the school up and running by 2019.

BMI has attained many notable academic achievements, such as: Having over 90% of their students pass all Texas standardized tests; consistently maintaining student attendance at 97.5% for every nine week period; bringing low-skilled students’ grades up to grade-level or even above grade level (provided one full scholastic year of enrollment); scoring above average on Stanford Ten Testing; teaching computer literacy and foreign language classes to all kids from Kindergarten–8th grade.

BMI has produced many notable graduates from the school and has received national recognition and dozens of awards for outstanding achievement and excellence in education. Several alumni remain connected to the school, even when they leave and go off to accomplish amazing things. Many of the graduates send their own children to the institution that laid their foundation for success. Many of you may have experienced the fruit of their labor, after having met many of the productive BMI graduates who work or own businesses in the city of Houston.

Wonderland, Inc. and BMI will celebrate its 50 years of providing quality and excellent education, by hosting their “Bright Beginning, Brighter Future” Gala on Friday, October 28, at 7 pm at The Power Center. This year, they will honor some of their most prominent alumni professionals and some of Houston’s well-known community activists and educators. Honorees that will be recognized at the gala include: Nicole Thomas – Distinguished Alumni and the first woman and African American to serve as a hospital president for Baptist Health in Florida; Dr. Reagan Flowers – Trailblazer in Education and Founder/CEO of C-STEM; Karen Carter Richards – Leader in the Community and Publisher/CEO of Forward Times Publishing, Inc.; and Robert A. Ambrose – Philanthropy and for his dedication to Wonderland, Inc. and Beatrice Mayes Institute.

Please join us at the Forward Times, in congratulating Wonderland, Inc. and Beatrice Mayes Institute Charter School (BMI), on celebrating 50 years of successfully educating our youth and servicing our community with great distinction and honor.