Carpe Diem Academy in Pinecrest caters to special needs children

Gelin Gonzalez (left) and Lissa Torres

By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld….

Gelin Gonzalez (left) and Lissa Torres

Lissa Torres wants to make sure kids don’t miss out on a single day of their potential. That’s why she opened Carpe Diem Academy in 2005.

“We are a private school for children of special needs,” she says. “The majority are autistic.”

However, Torres says they do serve children of all sorts of special needs.

“We are considered a McKay Scholarship school,” she says. “We are Medicaid providers as well.”

All Carpe Diem students attend on the McKay Scholarship, which gives parents a choice as to whether to keep their special needs child in public school or place them in private school. The school provides therapy services on site, which are paid for by Medicaid or private insurance.

Carpe Diem, 15924 SW 92 Ave., has kindergarten through 12th grade. Class starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m., and then afterschool care begins.

“We also provide after school services,” she says.

The school provides tutoring, speech, physical and occupational therapy and Torres says they have all the services on site to help the parents with special needs kids. The children have all of their needs met during the school day, relieving parents of the need to run around after school taking their kids to a variety of therapists. Those services are open to children attending other schools.

“We also have a registered nurse on staff,” she says. The registered nurse is Gelin Gonzalez, Torres’ mother.

“We do have a program and a class for children who have Attention Deficit Disorder or learning disabilities,” Torres says. “As soon as they have progressed to the level they need to be at, we do try to put them in regular school.”

The kids with learning disabilities or ADD can go to regular schools, but their parents want the smaller class size ratio that Carpe Diem provides.

“We have had students at the high school level that transitioned to Coral Reef High and started at Miami-Dade,” she says.

For those who are not high functioning, Carpe Diem provides community-based instruction.

“We prepare them to have functional skills to be active members of the community and maybe hold jobs at Winn Dixie,” she says.

There are 53 students at the Palmetto Bay site. A second school has just opened in Little Havana. One of the things that makes Carpe Diem different is that the school requires parents to volunteer at least 20 hours each academic year, including field trips.

Because of its community partnerships, the school offers students programs they probably wouldn’t have access to elsewhere. There are martial arts lessons, yoga and the kids participate in participate in culinary arts classes.

“We’ve gotten a lot of them to try and eat things their parents swore they would never eat,” Torres says. “We do music therapy and we try to bring in an art therapist once a month.”

Before opening her own academy, Torres was the administrator of a special needs charter school.

“What would end up happening is that the parents would put their student in middle school programs and by the end of the first year, their progress was gone,” she says.

Carpe Diem is completing the accreditation process for the Association of Independent Schools of Florida. Teachers are certified ESE and assistants have at least 60 hours in early childhood development studies and experience in working with kids with special needs.

All teachers are certified in DIR/Floortime, a program developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan.

For information, call 305-971-1230 or go to

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