Pittsfield Promise gets tools to help kids avoid 'summer slide'


PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield Promise has coordinated the expansion of learning and literacy programs for young students this summer, an investment in childhood education designed to curb the "summer slide."

This summer, Pittsfield Promise is partnering with the city's three Title I schools -- Conte Community, Crosby Elementary and Morningside Community -- to offer a free, privately funded on-site summer enrichment program. Research suggests that students can lose two months or more of grade-level learning from inactivity and lack of engagement over the summer vacation, AKA the summer slide.

Beginning in July, the new programs will run for four weeks and offer academic support as well as enrichment activities like art and music, through partnerships with IS183 Art School of the Berkshires and Kids4Harmony. While all three schools have traditionally offered summer programs, the new funds help to expand the programs through offerings, staff and assessments.

This summer, with the investment of funding, all three schools will go from four to five days of programming; at Conte and Morningside, programs will expand from half to full days, running 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Each school has also added 100 slots for students over the previous year.

In addition, the new funds support student transportation to and from the programs.

"The expanded hours and improved access to transportation should help us reach more families," said Gordon Noseworthy, interim superintendent for Pittsfield Public Schools.

Literature has been sent home to families about the programs at each school, and slots are still being filled at the schools.

"This new model works for working families," said Joseph Curtis, principal of Morningside Community School.

On Friday, Pittsfield Promise will gather to celebrate National Summer Learning Day, from 12:30 to 2 p.m., at Berkshire Museum on South Street.

This is the first time Pittsfield Public Schools has received funds from Berkshire United Way, which is investing $28,229 toward the program. Greylock Federal Credit Union and the Pittsfield Education Enrichment Fund of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation are each investing approximately $7,000.

Formed last year, Pittsfield Promise is the citywide coalition of more than 30 organizations, agencies, businesses and community leaders working to reach a goal of getting 90 percent of Pittsfield third-grade students reading at grade level by 2020. Last summer, the group launched a literacy initiative to keep kids learning during the summer school break, including a public "Word of the Day" campaign and some special events.

"Providing out-of-school-time academic and enrichment opportunities for all kids regardless of economic status is a key part of closing the achievement gap," said Kristine Hazzard, president of Berkshire United Way.

Part of the agreement with Pittsfield Public Schools is to track the outcomes of the children who attend these summer programs by using the Dynamic Indicator of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) and the Survey of Afterschool Youth Outcomes (SAYO) assessment tools to measure the programs' successes.

Pittsfield Promise Chairman John Bissell, executive vice president of Greylock Federal Credit Union, said the coalition is continuing to forge new partnerships and expand programs and support to families outside of school as well. He said Jason "Jake" McCandless, who will become the new superintendent for Pittsfield Public Schools on July 1, is already included in Pittsfield Promise talks.

Outside of the school system, Pittsfield Promise will offer additional initiatives this summer through community partnerships.

This Friday, Berkshire Museum will celebrate National Summer Learning Day and will launch this year's summer "Word of the Day" program.

Museum Executive Director Van Shields is part of another group called Partners in Out-of-School Time (POST) -- another coalition of businesses, government, schools and other community organizations dedicated to providing programs and activities for children during school breaks and vacation periods to stimulate continued learning.

"It's a two-pronged effort to get more people in and experiencing these kinds of programs," said Shields.

In addition to events at the museum, POST, for example, is working to add enrichment and literacy components to Pittsfield summer playground programs, so kids can get an additional boost while being there.

Karen Vogel, Berkshire United Way coordinator of early childcare, has also reached out and partnered with Pittsfield Public Schools' summer meals program, Salvation Army and Project Bread to offer breakfast and lunch time literacy activities on-site at school meal sites this year.

In addition, there will be early childhood education and development experts at the summer's Third Thursdays events to provide free information and advice for families. That group will have a booth near St. Joseph's Parish on North Street.


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