Mercyhurst education initiative is model for statewide program

Five years ago, two Mercyhurst College education professors reached out to local inner-city high school students to interest them in careers in education.

Dr. Phil Belfiore and Dr. Ruth Auld began the Pre-Teaching Academy, forging a partnership with the Erie School District that enabled East High School students to experience the teaching profession by tutoring students at nearby Wayne Middle School under the supervision of Mercyhurst education graduate students.

Today that program has grown from four to 40 East High students and emerged as the model for 11 other college-high school partnerships launched statewide through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) this year. The initiative is known as C.A.P. (College Aspirations Program).

A $20,000 PHEAA grant shared by Mercyhurst and the Erie School District augments $12,600 in funding from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and expands the tutoring program to afford its high school participants the chance to visit more than a half-dozen regional colleges this year, including Penn State Behrend, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Duquesne University, University of Pittsburgh, Clarion University, Thiel College and Allegheny College.

The students will tour the college where it all began – Mercyhurst – on Wednesday, Dec. 13, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mercyhurst students, education faculty, Erie schools superintendent Dr. James Barker, and PHEAA regional director Daniel Johnston of Sharon are expected to participate in the day’s events. 

“We see many young people making poor decisions about higher education – either not attending because they didn’t think they could, or going into the wrong program,” Johnston said. “After seeing Mercyhurst’s partnership with East, the advantages and the track record they already had, we used their format for a pilot program to fund 12 partnerships across the state. At the end of this year, we are going to see what kind of impact they have had.” 

Following is the students’ agenda for their visit to Mercyhurst: 

8:45 Students arrive at bookstore coffee shop 

9 Tour the campus with Ambassadors

10:30 Meet at Taylor Little Theater to see video

11-11:35 Meet with honors groups across campus

11:40 Gather in Hammermill Library to go to lunch

11:45-12:45 Lunch in Egan cafeteria

1 Tour of library

1:30 Leave to go back to East High School

“There are many programs across the country that provide supports to students who are first generation in their families to attend college; the C.A.P. encompasses the needs of the whole student,” said Auld. “We are not just helping them develop the academic skills needed to be successful in college, to explore their talents and interests, but we are also developing communication skills, cultivating a work ethic and even financial literacy.”

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