Monday June 11, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- A newly established city-based literacy campaign designed to help young children already is garnering national attention.

Announced earlier this year as Pittsfield Promise, the plan was recently selected as a finalist for an "All-America City" award.

It is one of 32 finalists fielded from more than 100 entries across the country. Winners will be announced July 2 in Denver.

An All-America City award recipient receives not only national distinction and informational resources, but can leverage its status for financial, legislative and technical support to help literacy goals come to fruition.

Sponsored by the National Civic League and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, the award program is part of a movement of local leaders, nonprofits and foundations across the country who are focused on improving the literacy rate by having at least 90 percent of third-graders reading proficiently at grade level by 2020.

"Simply put, up until third grade children are learning how to read, after third grade, they're reading to learn," said Amy O'Leary, director for Strategies for Children's Early Education for All campaign.

The independent, privately funded statewide advocacy and policy organization advocates for families to have access to high-quality early education, and supports the above third-grade reading goals for the state. It has also partnered with Pittsfield Pro mise in interest of its work at a local level to support literacy building programs, beginning at birth.

O'Leary and Strategies for Children communications director Irene Sege met with The Eagle's editorial board recently, along with Pittsfield Promise leaders John Bissell, executive vice president of Greylock Federal Credit Union, and Kristine Hazzard, president and CEO of Berkshire United Way.

Together, the group noted that about 60 percent of Pittsfield third-graders read proficiently, mirroring the statewide statistic.

"But that means 40 percent of our kids are not reading at a proficient or advanced level. In some of our schools, the rates are even lower for students," Bissell said.

Locally, Pittsfield Promise members have received support for the initiative from Pittsfield Public Schools, the Pittsfield School Committee, and Berk shire United Way group called Berkshire Prio rities. A presentation was made to the Berkshire Compact for Edu cation on June 1.

A more tangible demonstration of Pittsfield Promise in action will come this summer as Ron Latham, director of the Berkshire Athenaeum, and Van Shields, executive director for the Berkshire Museum, have agreed to collaborate with others to offer summer literacy-based learning programs this year. Another project is being developed with Berk shire Community College professors and students at the helm.

The group said it's also interested in helping the city's soon-to-close Family Literacy Program to find alternatives to services through other partnerships, versus direct funding.

This summer, both Pittsfield Promise and Strategies for Children will be lobbying state leaders to pass a budget that supports these goals, as well as a proposed bill known as "An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency," which would establish an early literacy expert panel for the state, as well as curriculum, instruction, professional development and training, assessment goals as well as strategies for families.

"Helping parents understand what role they have to play in this is key," Hazzard said. "Early childhood education and care providers can't do it alone."

To reach Jenn Smith:
jsmith@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink



Learning to read ...

Percentage of third-grade students in the Pittsfield Public Schools reading at a level of proficient or higher, by elementary:

Stearns: 84 percent

Williams: 79 percent

Egremont: 73 percent

Allendale: 71 percent

Capeless: 54 percent

Conte: 54 percent

Crosby: 41 percent

Morningside: 25 percent

Source: MCAS scores, Spring 2011