PITTSFIELD - On Friday, the partners of the Pittsfield Promise third-grade reading initiative will have much to celebrate at the group's quarterly meeting.

Berkshire United Way will formally announce to Pittsfield Promise partners that it has received a $200,000 grant from the state Department of Early Education and Care under its Early Education Partnerships: Birth to Grade Three Strategy program.

"We applied for it because it very much supports what we're doing with the Pittsfield Promise. The grant also focused on gateway cities, which includes Pittsfield," said Nancy Stoll, director of Community Impact for Berkshire United Way.

The core goal of Pittsfield Promise is to have nine out of every 10 third-graders in Pittsfield and possibly the Berkshires reading at grade level by the end of this decade. About 60 percent of Pittsfield third-graders read proficiently, mirroring the statewide statistic.

According to research, children need the skills to read by third grade; otherwise, they are more likely to have difficulties learning in all subjects.

To meet the 90 percent goal, Pittsfield Promise, a collective of about 80 stakeholders, formed to develop and implement a plan, which includes ideals as well as events, programs and curriculum, to help the city's families help children improve their reading.

The new grant, which will be spread over a twoyear period, has immediately allowed Berkshire United Way to hire Karen Vogel as a full-time coordinator for early childhood and the Pittsfield Promise campaign.

Stoll said the funding comes from Race to the Top money received by the state. That program also views early childhood education as a priority.

"This will also help us in uniting educators and making sure early childhood educators are getting the support that they need, such as in getting advance degrees. Our goals are also to align with the state agenda for high quality early childhood education programs," Stoll said.

Other components of this include collecting data on children before they enter kindergarten and from birth to age 8; supporting existing programs like Reach Out and Read, which provides free books for young children during doctor's office visits, and offering families ways to better engage in teaching their children to read.

One plan to help with the latter is to give all new mothers in Pittsfield a book bag at the hospital filled with books and brochures on teaching strategies.

" That way, they get an understanding of the importance of literacy at day one," Stoll said.

In addition to celebrating the new grant and a new staff member, Pittsfield Promise partners will also acknowledge Pittsfield's designation as an All-America City, which was bestowed in July from the National Civic League in partnership with the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

The group is also planning for an Oct. 17 visit from Ralph Smith, senior vice president of the Annie E. Casey Family Foundation and managing director for the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The visit will formally kick off the first-year efforts of Pittsfield Promise.