$3,000 and a dream: Meet Beatrice Mayes, the woman who started her own school aimed at educating children in the Third Ward

Beatrice Mayes works with a student.
Beatrice Mayes works with a student. (TSU)

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.”