By TOPS Parent Group
September 20, 2016
The TOPS (Talented Offerings for Programs in the Sciences) program at Marc Garneau C.I. is a special program with an emphasis in math, science and English. It has about 60 students in each of grade 9 to 12.
The program has some amazing features that are rare for a public school. These include:
- Competitive admission process – Students are selected from a pool of over 600 applicants based on an admission test.
- Talented and dedicated teachers – Those who teach in the TOPS program are some of the best. They are not only gifted in teaching, but also good role models for students. They teach knowledge and skills and help mould character.
- Enriched curriculum – The curriculum is enriched through: a) offering more advanced courses, such as AP Physics; b) “hands-on” learning through field trips and scientific explorations; c) group projects and presentations; and d) mandatory participation in playing Bridge.
- Demanding and nurturing environment – Students are expected to learn at an enriched level, learn how to learn, and more importantly, how to learn from one’s own failures. Teachers and staff offer guidance and encouragement when students go through “academic adversity” (such as low marks in mid-term tests).
- Experiential learning and field trips – There are unique opportunities for students to learn by doing and to learn from experience. Each grade has field trips related to learning, such as theatres in Stratford, scientific exploration at Algonquin Park and heritage day. These trips allow students not only to learn English and Sciences, but more importantly, to learn about themselves, their mutual interdependence and the interconnectedness of all things.
- Rich student life – Students extend their energy and creativity beyond classroom learning. They run an award-winning newspaper (The Rechoner), produce an annual talent-show (TOPS Night), create and operate numerous clubs, and participate (and often win) in various external competitions from math contests to debating and mock trial.
- Unparalleled student peer groups — TOPS students are highly motivated, high-achieving individuals with a broad range of interests. Each student is surrounded by individuals with interests and goals similar to his/her own and encouraged to support each other as “brothers and sisters”. They motivate, challenge, support and teach each other and develop together. Many students have outstanding achievements outside school, such as in athletics (swimming, fencing, volleyball, skating, etc.), music, debating (e.g., DECA), essay competitions, and community volunteering. Being excellent is “cool” in TOPS.
Strengths of the TOPS program seen by parents and graduates include the following:
- Students are better prepared for university and beyond. Students develop excellent work ethics in the Program: they know that there is no substitute for working hard, even if you are smart; they also know how to work in groups; and they learned how to bounce back from a temporary setback. Their academic training prepares them well for first-year university courses. The skills and discipline acquired from the Program help student succeed in medical, law and graduate schools or in a real competitive world.
- Many students receive awards and scholarships that put them in the top tier of their peer group in Canada.
- Students are better, all-round persons. They learn how to help one another, how to be socially responsible, and to embrace diversity. They are genuinely kind and caring people.
- Leaders in training. Many students develop leadership skills through leading Camp Pinecrest or Algonquin Park Expedition, participating at the TOPS Nigh (talent show to pay tribute to the graduating class and the teachers) or working on the Reckoner newspaper.
- The TOPS bond may last a lifetime. Four years in TOPS help students develop some strong bonding among themselves. Such bonding is a valuable asset.
With its amazing features and strengths, the TOPS program is not immune from some lingering concerns from parents. These concerns range from workload issues, stress levels, and “low marks.”
The “low marks” concern has been raised by some parents who feel that the highly talented and hardworking students deserve higher marks than those received from their teachers. Some parents worry that in light of the apparent trend of marks inflation in high schools, the “low marks” may hinder some students from being admitted into certain “highly competitive” undergraduate programs. At the same time, many parents respect the integrity of the TOPS program and have no issues with the marks received by the students. Nevertheless, marks are an important measurement of students’ success, but not the only one. Marks cannot fully represent the values of the TOPS (due to the features and strengths described above). It is the values that define TOPS.
The TOPS program is encouraged to do more to reach out to universities about the quality of education and the calibre of TOPS students.