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Erie pupils to benefit from new language lab

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Mercyhurst University is partnering with the Booker T. Washington Center (BTWC) to provide one-on-one literacy assessment and instruction to Erie children in grades Pre K-4.

The BTWC recently received funding from the Uncommon Individual Foundation in support of its after-school program, paving the way for implementation of a new Language and Literacy Lab. The lab, set to launch next week, will be staffed by Mercyhurst’s pre-service teachers under the direction of Special Education Professor Phillip Belfiore and Assistant Professor Susan Johnson. They will provide evidence-based literacy instruction and monitor progress in individual students. 

Carmen Dawson of the Uncommon Individual Foundation, who serves as the executive director of the new literacy program, and Shantel Hilliard, executive director of the BTWC, assisted in the creation of the program.

“Our Early Childhood and Special Education programming at Mercyhurst promotes evidence-based early intervention practices and robust literacy opportunities as critical to the academic success of children,” Johnson explained.  “This partnership will allow our pre-service teachers to work one-on-one with students who may be at risk for academic failure.”

Not only does the new program support at-risk children, but it provides an urban educational clinical experience for Mercyhurst education students, primarily sophomores.

“That is what is unique about Mercyhurst’s education department; while many schools don’t provide clinical experiences until student teaching, we facilitate student engagement as soon as possible,” Johnson said. “We believe that helps to foster more culturally responsive and reflective teachers.”

The literacy lab will engage 25 pre-service teachers, who will work with approximately 40 children residing in the neighborhoods surrounding the BTWC, 1720 Holland St.  Johnson said the center will provide staff support and recruit students who could benefit.

“We are grateful both to the Booker T. Washington Center and to the Uncommon Individual Foundation for affording us this opportunity,” she said, adding that the funding goes toward literacy skill assessment software, books and facilities. Data-driven outcomes will be assessed as part of the project.

The literacy program is consistent with the mission of Mercyhurst’s founding Sisters of Mercy, whose legacy includes extending educational opportunities to underserved populations so that, ultimately, individuals may lead productive and fulfilling lives. 


The Uncommon Individual Foundation, located near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that studies, develops and applies the art and science of mentoring to help focused individuals work toward achieving their goals. They aid entities of all kinds in creating a culture of active mentorship for individuals within their organizations.