Known for being the founder of the illustrious Wonderland Inc., now known as Beatrice Mayes Institute Charter School, Beatrice Mayes has played a key part in serving generations of students in the South Park/Third Ward area.
Her passion for bettering education and investing in children’s lives, especially the less fortunate in the Black community, has brought her great success and the credentials of being the founder of Houston’s longest-lasting African American educational institution.
Being that she was already tutoring adolescent students in her community while working hard at Memorial Hospital in 1966, Mayes decided that if she could work hard for someone else that she could do it for herself.
“I started tutoring students in my community, mostly boys, because I began to realize that the majority of the people I was helping couldn’t read. So, I thought to myself, ‘Why not start a school?’” Mayes said.
With assistance from her late husband, Thomas Mayes, the pair started Wonderland Inc. with a small home they purchased on Calhoun Road for $3,000, not knowing of the tremendous growth to come.
“We were licensed to have only 30 students,” Beatrice Mayes said. “We started out with pre-k and kindergarten. People loved our work and service to their children. As time passed, we grew from pre-k to third grade, and every year we just added a grade. With the work that we did, it just grew like wildfire.”
In 2001, she faced financial challenges because people could not afford to attend a private school.
“It wasn’t until we got around to adding eighth grade when we encountered financial issues,” Beatrice Mayes said. “The charter school came alive and we knew we couldn’t compete with financing a private school, so we just joined the amen. In 2001, we then initiated Beatrice Mayes Institute Charter School instead of Wonderland Inc. Private School.”
Since the switch from private to charter school, her school now has grades pre-k through eighth grade.
While a quality education is a priority at BMI, Beatrice Mayes also instills in her school the importance of a good foundation, structure and staying true to the culture.
“We have to be able to move with life as it changes and challenges us, but we do not expect to lose our foundation nor our culture along the way. We still have to sing our Negro National Anthem every day, we still learn our learning creed and students still have to do homework,” she said. “We want parents to always be involved with decision making at school. The partnership between parents and the school is the answer to victory in working with our children to be successful. Our mission is to expand the mind, build character and inspire community action.”
In the future, Beatrice Mayes Institute does plan on purchasing more land to build a high school facility near the current establishment.
“We plan on expanding to a high school, not more schools, but expanding our buildings where we are,” Beatrice Mayes said. “I still want to be the school that sits on the hill in the South Park/Third Ward area whereas we can still touch those children that actually need us.”
KPRC 2 is partnering with Texas Southern University throughout the month of February for a celebration of Houston Black history. Students from TSU’s School of Communication and members of @KTSU_2 “The Voice” online team are providing 28 days of content for the @kprc2 Instagram account and the station’s other digital platforms. Posts and articles have been researched and produced exclusively by TSU students under the supervision of their School of Communication professors and the KPRC 2 digital team. An article will be published daily throughout February 2021 on click2houston.com/blackhistory.
About the author
Kennedi Robinson is an aspiring news broadcaster and plans to follow in the footsteps of Oprah Winfrey to eventually create her own television network. She is a junior and journalism major at Texas Southern University.