Saturday November 3, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Eight thousand children in Berkshire County will be getting a head start in building literacy.

On Friday night, families and local leaders gathered in the Berkshire Museum, as Reach Out and Read, Berkshire United Way, and the Berkshire Compact for Education announced that every pediatrician in Berkshire County has now joined the fight to strengthen early childhood learning by joining the Reach Out and Read program.

The program "prescribes" free, developmentally appropriate books and educational resources to children and families, beginning at the 6-month checkup and continuing through age 5.

Participating Berkshire County practices now include Berkshire Pediatric Associates, Northern Berkshire Pediatrics, Macony Pediatrics, Suburban Internal Medicine, Community Health Program, East Elm Pediatrics, Dr. Brian J. Dempsey and Dr. Vicki Smith.

With grant funding from Berkshire United Way, the Berkshires has received "Bookend County" status through the national Reach Out and Read initiative.

The new grant will now cover all book costs. Previously, doctors were responsible for half the cost of books, on top of their medical caregiving priorities.

"I am thrilled beyond measure about it," said Laurie Flynn, Western Massachusetts coordinator for Reach Out and Read.

She said she has been working with the Berkshire Compact and Berkshire United Way for a year and a half to make this happen.

Flynn said raising literacy rates won’t be easy, but "it’s easy for parents to show their children a book every day."

Dr. Jackie Jones of Berkshire Pediatrics, which previously participated in the program, said she and her colleagues are grateful for the support.

"Research shows that the journey toward literacy begins at birth, and it is our responsibility as caregivers to remind families that reading to and talking with children during those first five years of life can have a profound impact on their ability to succeed in school," she said.

Nancy Stoll, director of community impact for Berkshire United Way, said the Reach Out and Read program is aligned with its partnership with Berkshire Priorities and Pittsfield Promise to increase reading proficiency from 60 percent in 2011 to 90 percent by 2020 by targeting the critical birth to age 5 years.

It is also consistent with its role in the Early Childhood Think Tank initiative, which is working to improve access to high-quality early education for all Berkshire County children, and Berkshire Compact’s role in supporting early childhood education initiatives.