With its inception twenty-seven years ago, the Talented Offerings for Programs in the Sciences (TOPS) program at Marc Garneau C.I. is a merit-based enrichment program, focussing heavily on the core subjects of mathematics, sciences, and language arts. Open to sixty students each year from across the province ‐ with a majority from the Greater Toronto Area ‐ admission to TOPS is a competitive process, with a selection board weighing in the results of an entrance exam and a personal profile of the applicant.

Located at one of the most multicultural high schools in Canada with over ninety different nationalities, TOPS exposes its students not just to an environment enriched in the topics of science and mathematics but also to different customs and beliefs. It is a four year program in which the TOPS students are exclusively grouped together for two-thirds of their classes, the other courses electives that enable them to work and learn alongside the other students of the school.

From working on simple machines, performing a DNA fingerprinting lab at the Ontario Science Center, and analyzing and identifying animal skulls to taking scientific expeditions to Algonquin Park, TOPS provides its students with ample opportunity to learn outside of the classroom. Their extracurricular involvement, seen greatly in a variety of school clubs, has also enabled many to form friendships with students throughout the school. As a small program, it features a tight-knit community that allows students to form lifelong friendships and a strong peer-support network.

Despite the diversity of the students and their great involvement in the school community, many have always felt there to be a certain divide between the TOPS students and the rest of the student population. To give a little more insight into TOPS, The Reckoner spoke at length with a variety of students at all levels of the program.

Q: What does TOPS mean to you?

Raluca Gondor (Grade 9): Being in TOPS means being with people who get me. It’s having the best support system in the world. It’s having partners in crime during field trips, loads of puns, and a great time generally. Sure, it’s stressful at times, but you always know that your friends are there, struggling with you. It’s just crazy in the most amazing way.

David Hao (Grade 11): Being in TOPS means inevitable long nights and overcoming (or trying to) academic hurdles, but sharing these struggles with supportive people who mostly feel the same way.

Q: What do you think TOPS stands for?

Thomas Mircea (Grade 12): TOPS places great emphasis on peer cooperation, creating strong bonds between students as they learn to tackle problems together. Critical thinking and smart friends are great assets to have in TOPS.

James Lin (Grade 9): I think TOPS is about finding students with a strong interest in maths and sciences, and nurturing and enriching their aptitude into the best they can do. I also think the purpose is to bring students into an environment where they are with others like them and are able to share ideas and experiences.

Q: How have your year(s) in TOPS been? How has your perception of TOPS changed over the years?

Matthew Tse (Grade 9): My original perception of TOPS was a hardworking, very competitive, group of science and math students.  Throughout the year, I was surprised to learn that while we are still super good at math and science, TOPS students also procrastinate, stay up late, and are really friendly and close with one another!

Q: How is being a TOPS graduate different from any other?

Neerajen Sritharan (Grade 12): TOPS really prepares you for university. Having taken Mr. van Bemmel’s AP Physics course, I’ve already gotten a taste of what to expect in the following years. In addition, I am much closer to my peers because I’m in TOPS than I would have been had I chosen to pursue my high school education elsewhere.

Q: What unique opportunities has this program provided you with?

Nicholas Blake (Grade 12): TOPS has provided me with so many unique opportunities. I’ve camped out in the middle of a forest for a week to study its growth, I’ve gotten the chance to meet Steven Galloway, and I’ve made friends I intend to keep for life. I don’t believe every high school student can claim those things.

Sheila Balu (Grade 11): The TOPS program has provided me with many unique opportunities, both inside and outside of the classroom. For example, we go to the beautiful city of Stratford every year to watch Shakespeare plays, which not only supplements the English program but is also a bonding opportunity.

Q: Why did you initially join the program? Has it exceeded, fell short of, or met your expectations?

Susie Liu (Grade 12): I joined TOPS because I thought math and science seemed pretty cool, and the speeches at TOPS Info Night were very inspirational … In some respects, it’s exceeded my expectations: I didn’t expect to meet so many great people, and I didn’t expect to be pushed to try new things. In other respects, it was different from what I expected. I didn’t end up working as hard as I had expected, and some courses crushed my confidence in ways I didn’t anticipate.

Anonymous (Grade 10): I first joined because I wanted to be challenged academically and I felt that I couldn’t in a normal high school. I think it has met my expectations.

Q: What is one thing you feel that needs to be modified?

Mandy Chen (Grade 9): I think the distance between the general school and TOPS students should be changed … I think there should be more school-wide events that give students a better chance at actually getting to know each other better.

Q: How does TOPS impact MGCI?

Benson Wan (Grade 12): I believe that TOPS provides a similar impact as SHSM or BSAP as it brings highly talented individuals together into a safe and comfortable environment where everyone thrives. The TOPS program brings a variety of scientific and mathematical minds from across Toronto and the GTA to one central environment. TOPS thus acts as a ‘think tank’, where likeminded individuals can thrive and peers not in the program can interact with TOPS students and share interests.

Anonymous (Grade 10): I think the Tops program has a big impact on MGCI. Most of the clubs are attended by TOPS students, and the TOPS program attracts very good teachers, some of whom teach non-TOPS students outside of their TOPS courses.

Q: What does TOPS mean for your future?

Bill Xun (Grade 12): It’s not what I learned from TOPS that I’ll take with me, but how I learned. Throughout my four years at TOPS, I’ve been pushed by my teachers and friends to do things I’d never ever thought I would do, and not just academically. I’ve done contests, written reviews, and tons of other stuff I probably can’t say here.

Q: What has been the best part of the program so far?

Teodora Blidaru (Grade 12): The best part by far is the people you get to meet and bond with. You basically become lifelong friends and it’s honestly amazing.

Emily Ford (Grade 12): I would say that the best part of TOPS for me has been that I was rarely bored.  There were always things going on within the school and my courses … Being in TOPS is being in a pretty high-pressure environment because everyone around you is on top of everything, but it allowed me to make friends with similar people and to be constantly pushed by them. Also TOPS kids have the most fun dancing at parties.  So there’s that as well!