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PDE releases new funds for Carpe Diem Academy

Monday, September 29, 2014

More than 200 students of Erie’s Public Schools will continue to get a boost in academic and physical wellness from Mercyhurst University’s Carpe Diem Academy, thanks to a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE).

Mercyhurst recently learned that its $1.2 million 21st Century Community Learning Center grant request to fund the Carpe Diem Academy for the next three years had been approved by PDE, which released the first year’s funding in the amount of $399,000 on Monday.  

“We at Mercyhurst are gratified to receive this grant because it affords us the opportunity to continue improving the lives of young school children in our community,” said Leanne M. Roberts, Ph.D., associate dean of the Hafenmaier School of Education & Behavioral Sciences and chair of the education department. “We have had a very successful three years with the Carpe Diem Academy and this important funding initiative paves the way for what we hope will be another three years; this latest award being for year one.”

Roberts and Carpe Diem Academy director Amy Bauschard submitted the $1.2 million three-year grant application in August.

The Carpe Diem Academy, open to students in kindergarten, first and second grades in the Erie school district, is an extended learning opportunity offering instructional support in math and reading, as well as arts experiences, such as music and dance, and health and wellness activities. New this year is science enrichment. Students in the academy receive a healthy snack and dinner. The snack, typically fresh fruit or vegetable and yogurt, is donated by Wegmans grocery. The academy operates on site at participating schools four days a week from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.

“It’s a safe environment for an after-school population, grades K through 2, that wasn’t being reached before,” Roberts said. “Most after-school programs in the district start at third grade and up. We wanted to target these young children because we know that if they aren’t reading well by third grade, they typically don’t make the transition to reading for content by fourth grade.”

The academy will operate in three elementary schools, McKinley, Edison and one still to be determined, and will include both a 33-week after-school program serving 180 students and a 6- to 8-week summer program for 86 students.

Before getting word of the grant, Mercyhurst had obtained smaller, private grants to fund the academy in one elementary school, Roberts said.

“It takes quite a bit of money to run a program like this,” she added. “Now we’re able to run it in three schools.”

Launched in January 2012, the Carpe Diem Academy has been effective at enhancing the academic and physical wellbeing of inner-city students. Parent and teacher surveys overwhelmingly indicate behavioral and academic improvements in participants, according to Roberts.

Students are also motivated to attend school because daily academy participation is contingent on school attendance.

“There’s an incentive for them to be able to come to a place where they get dance and music and reading and language arts and healthy snacks and dinner,” Roberts said. “It’s a special treat for these children.”

Mercyhurst University benefits from the program’s continuation as well. Students in Mercyhurst’s education department staff the academy almost entirely, providing great opportunities for experience in a classroom setting.

“Our undergraduate and graduate pre-service teachers are getting experience that they cannot get through coursework or clinical experience,” Roberts said. “It’s an opportunity for them to go into a classroom, teach, plan lessons, manage behaviors of children and really see what teaching in an urban setting is like.”

Many students who teach at the academy unexpectedly find themselves drawn to the urban school environment, Roberts added.

“Last year, Erie’s Public Schools hired five of our graduates who have had experience in the Carpe Diem Academy,” she said. “That’s another benefit to us – they’re seeing the quality of our teacher preparation program through this partnership.”

The work Mercyhurst students do at the academy also falls in line with the university’s mission of service to underserved populations.

“This initiative is a true depiction of living the mission and core values of Mercyhurst University,” said Mercyhurst President Tom Gamble, Ph.D. “Education, especially of children and women in need, was at the heart of the beginnings of the Sisters of Mercy 1831. When they founded Mercyhurst nearly 100 years later, they immediately sought to have the college chartered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and secured that charter within two years of its founding. The day of its opening, the Erie news heralded Mercyhurst for the role and benefit it would bring to the Erie community. We believe this grant enables Mercyhurst to continue the mission that lies deep in our heart and our history.”