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"Born Learning Trail" Opens To Promote Early Literacy In Pittsfield

Lucas Willard

Monday’s ceremony marked the installation of the Born Learning Trail, a series of signs along a pathway through a playground at Springside Park in Pittsfield, aimed young children and their families to encourage outdoor activity and reading.

The Born Learning Trail comes from efforts by Pittsfield Promise, a city-wide coalition that is working through a variety of projects with a goal of boosting  reading proficiency levels among Pittsfield third-graders to 90 percent by 2020.

Although Massachusetts is seen as a leader in reading reading proficiency, Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi said that according to MCAS testing scores, Pittsfield has a third-grade reading proficiency level below the statewide average.

"In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 61 percent of the children that reach the third grade read at proficieny, but in the City of Pittsfield, we're in the 51 percent level," said Bianchi.

Alyssa Goddard of Berkshire Children and Families is just one of the volunteers with Pittsfield Promise. She said the playground at Springside Park will serve a particularly beneficial location for the trail. It was chosen because it offers a new place outside of school to encourage young children to read.

"Getting children involved in reading and in looking around them, and in understanding that the world is bigger, and this is a place where they can meet other children," said Goddard. "And pulling them here and having the literacy added to it will bring them back."

Kristine Hazzard, president and CEO of the Berkshire United Way, an organization that partnered with Pittsfield Promise on the trail, said that the effort serves one of the main goals in improving reading proficiency in young children, by engaging parents to take the lead in educating their children.

"It's also an opportunity for parents who come here just with their kids to play on the playground to suddenly see some different opportunities they can do for hopscotch, and for singing and different activities that just...get kids actively engaged in learning, not just reading books," said Hazzard.  "Reading books is really important but we want to do a lot more."

The Berkshire United Way also installed a Born Learning trail at Muddy Brook Elementary School in Great Barrington.

Mayor Bianchi added that when he was a child, he struggled with reading and took remedial classes. Bianchi said that he hopes that the Pittsfield Promise and other community efforts will allow the city to shift spending from remedial classes to more enrichment learning.

"That's maybe a lofty goal but I think that it's one that we should all have," said Bianchi.

Pittsfield and Springfield were both recognized in 2012 by the National Civic League as “All America Cities” for their stewardship in the early literacy movement. The Pittsfield Promise formally kicked off in October 2012 and has been working to expand its efforts to other communities in the Berkshires. In April at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough Pittsfield Promise presented a school readiness fair for parents with children aged five and younger.

Also in September of last year, Gov. Deval Patrick signed "An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency," which supports early literacy programs by promoting teacher training, family partnership programs, enhanced curricula, and other strategies.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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