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Carpe Diem Academy tapped for national award

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Mercyhurst University’s innovative Carpe Diem Academy is a finalist for the nation’s highest honor for arts and humanities programs offered outside school hours.

The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities presents a dozen National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards each year to outstanding programs that open new pathways to creativity, expression and achievement outside the regular school day. The Mercyhurst program is one of 50 finalists for the 2017 awards, to be announced later this summer.

Launched in 2012, the Carpe Diem Academy serves more than 250 students in kindergarten through second grade at several Erie public schools dealing with high poverty rates and lagging test scores.

Few enrichment programs target such young children, noted Leanne Roberts, Ph.D., dean of the Hafenmaier College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, who created the program. “Our view is that it’s crucial to reach kids in the early grades. If they aren’t reading well by the time they reach third grade, they’re definitely going to struggle going forward. We provide enrichment in literacy and math, as well as the arts and sciences,” she said.

“Mercyhurst University, which was founded by the Sisters of Mercy, strives to educate students who go on to live lives of leadership in justice and service. Our education majors are learning and living the Mercy mission as they serve the students of Erie’s Public Schools through their work at the Carpe Diem Academy,” Roberts added.

Children attend the academy in their own schools from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday throughout the school year. Every day includes activities to boost performance in reading, math and science, along with a variety of arts experiences, physical activity, and healthy meals and snacks.

The experiences offered vary each year as Mercyhurst works with new community partners to expose students to different facets of the arts and humanities. Over the years, the Carpe Diem Academy has:

  • Hosted artists-in-residence to help the children explore topics like fiber arts, sculpture and theatre (with help from Erie Arts & Culture)

  • Offered violin lessons (thanks to an Erie County Gaming Revenue grant to the Greater Erie Youth Symphony Orchestra)

  • Provided weekly dance and dramatic movement lessons (through Spotlight Dance)

  • Welcomed nationally and internationally known artists performing at Mercyhurst and its Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center (courtesy of the Mercyhurst Institute for Arts & Culture)

  • Provided weekly art classes (in partnership with Mercy Center of the Arts)

  • Invited author Marc Brown to interact with students (culminating a Literacy Alive! Program organized by Kappa Delta Pi, Mercyhurst’s honor society in education).

During the 2016-17 school year, Carpe Diem Academy added a poet/musician-in-residence to the curriculum. Students worked first with a poet to create their own works, then with a musician who helped them turn their poems into songs. Each child received a CD of their work to take home.

Certified teachers enrolled in graduate programs at Mercyhurst supervise each school’s operation, but undergraduate education majors are also getting the ultimate in hands-on experience by staffing the classrooms. With a student-to-faculty ratio of about 5 to 1, each child gets lots of one-on-one support.

Primary funding for the Carpe Diem Academy has come from federal 21st Century Community Learning Center grants managed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Organizations that received grants during the last round of funding in 2014 have submitted requests for funding extensions for the next two years. Roberts said Mercyhurst expects to continue operating the Carpe Diem Academy at three Erie schools this fall, with locations to be determined by the Erie School District’s ongoing reorganization.

Additional funding for the Carpe Diem Academy has been provided by philanthropic organizations like the Erie Community Foundation and Erie Arts and Culture; corporations including Wegmans and Superior Toyota; and Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit program.

Roberts gives special credit for the program’s success to Amy Bauschard, who has directed the academy since its inception. She also noted that Sheila Coon, who recently retired from Mercyhurst’s advancement department, helped to conceptualize the Carpe Diem Academy and secure the grant funding that made it possible.

The Carpe Diem Academy takes its name from the motto Mercyhurst University has lived by since its founding in 1926, Carpe Diem (Seize the Day). Its programming aims to help children “seize the day – and all their tomorrows.”

Learn more about the Youth Program Awards at nahyp.org.