The TOPS program at Toronto’s Marc Garneau Collegiate brings together 240 motivated kids with a special yen for math and science. The four-year program consistently churns out scholarship winners and outstanding post-secondary students. But the program isn’t just about academics. Students speak of the deep bonds they form with each other—especially during annual trips for each grade—and with their teachers (four of whom hold Prime Minister’s Awards for teaching). Two of this year’s graduates and an instructor share their thoughts: LINDSEY KETTEL, 18:
“Our science teacher, Mr. van Bemmel, was a butcher for 13 years. Every year he brings in a hog’s hind quarters, intestinal system and head for the Grade 10 class. He’ll hand around a tray with four different kinds of fat on it and point out, ‘Look at the fat from the inner thigh, how it’s softer.’ I don’t eat red meat, so in Grade 10 I cried. But the next year I went back, and this year I was in charge of videotaping it. Our teachers push you, and I needed to be pushed that way.” AISHWARYA RAMAKRISHNAN, 18:
“[English teacher] Mr. Hussey makes you fight for your opinions. He and I have this funny relationship—we both love language, so we try to score knowledge points off each other. It’s this sort of camaraderie that builds TOPS. The teachers see us as so much more than we think we are. It’s a bit scary because you don’t know whether you’ll ever be able to meet their expectations, but they know full well you’re going to love doing whatever they push you into.” MICHAEL MCMASTER, 39, TOPS HEAD:
“These bright students have always been one of the most neglected groups in the education system: they’re seen as a success, but they’re bored out of their skulls. If teachers decide to push them, so that for the first time in their lives they actually have to think, it results in a great deal of discomfort. For the teachers as well, TOPS courses are more work than regular ones, because the questions tend to be much more demanding and subtle. These kids, if you don’t know your stuff, will look for chinks in your academic armour.”
OTHER ACADEMIC LIGHTS
LISGAR COLLEGIATE INSTITUTE
One of the oldest high schools in Canada, Lisgar has a 160-year reputation as a solid academic institution. But it’s always looking to add innovative programs-such as an interdisciplinary civilizations and computers course launching this fall, which will involve predicting what society will be like in the future. With more than 40 per cent of the 950 students in the gifted program, the school has the aura of a private school. “But we’re very aware of being public,” says principal Patricia Irving. “We put an emphasis on sharing our knowledge and privilege.”
English teacher Lisa Walker knows more about her students than she ever expected to. “I certainly didn’t have this kind of close relationship with my teachers when I was in high school,” says the Timmins native. The tiny school of 150, in which the average class has only 14 students, allows teachers time to give individual help. The French-language instruction adds a common bond. “Cultural pride,” says Walker, “makes our community very tight-knit.”
STRATHCONA COMPOSITE HIGH SCHOOL
The school’s a leader at applying new teaching methods, from mind-mapping (a variation on classic brainstorming excercises) to action research (creating individual strategies for at-risk kids based on their strengths and weaknesses). K. MARLEY
PIANIST ANGELA HEWITT, 46
GLEBE COLLEGIATE INSTITUTE, OTTAWA ‘My favourite subject was French, and I had a wonderful teacher. Being able to speak French has been a great help when I’m interpreting composers such as Ravel and Fauré, as their music is linked with the sounds and poetry of their native tongue.’
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