A word a day keeps summer slide at bay - as published in The Berkshire Eagle

“Summer slide” occurs when students lose some of the achievement gains they made during the previous school year. This phenomenon contributes to the achievement gap between lower and higher income youth and is one of the strongest contributors to high school dropout. For many young people, the summer slide creates gaps in achievement, employment and college and career success.

In addition to investing in summer programs and the ongoing support of 50 Book Houses, this summer Berkshire United Way will promote continued learning by building upon existing initiatives, while also piloting a new one.   

The Word of the Day (WOD) calendar, a collaborative project with the Berkshire Museum, kicked-off on Monday, June 26.  WOD is designed to build vocabulary throughout the summer to help children develop literacy skills.  The calendars are distributed to our community partners — schools, summer programs, libraries, cultural venues, and local businesses — to use with children and families.  We encourage everyone to post the calendars at home, work and on their Facebook page. 

For the first time this year, the WOD calendar will be printed on the ceiling of 10 Berkshire Regional Transit Authority (BRTA) buses. These graphics will provide families with “teachable moments” as they are en route to their destination.

We hope those destinations will include Berkshire County museums and cultural venues participating in this year’s Free Fun Friday calendar. Free Fun Fridays, an annual summer program offered by the Highland Street Foundation, offers visitors no-cost admission to treasured cultural venues in Massachusetts. The program was created to increase access and enrichment opportunities for children and families throughout Massachusetts during the summer.

In partnership with AVANGRID, parent company of Berkshire Gas, The Avangrid Foundation, and the BRTA, Berkshire United Way will provide free bus fares to and from six Free Fun Friday venues on BRTA bus routes.  Families simply need to pick up a free, reusable Free Fun Friday bus pass at Berkshire United Way, 200 South Street in Pittsfield, or at the BRTA ticket counter.  Passes will also be available at the Berkshire Athenaeum, Berkshire Museum, Family Resource Center, CHP, the Family Center of Northern Berkshire and community events Berkshire United Way participates in – just look for the Pittsfield Promise or Chapter One table.

In commenting on the critical nature of focusing on building childhood literacy in our region, Berkshire Gas President Karen Zink noted, “Childhood literacy is literally the key to education and the ability to be successful in school and life.”

Zink continued, “We are happy to partner with Berkshire United Way and the Avangrid Foundation in sharing their commitment to helping people in need and to specifically support this important childhood literacy initiative.”

Indeed, words lead the way to success in school and in life and the best way to learn them is in everyday moments.  In addition to the initiatives mentioned above, Berkshire United Way will kick off The Word Project in July at Carr Hardware in Great Barrington -  with a fun-filled launch party scheduled to take place at the Triplex in August.

The Word Project is an interactive game that engages families and the community in early childhood language development.  The Word Project builds on the Word of the Month by connecting kids with their community where they learn the words that live in each place they visit. 

To play The Word Project game, young children can pick up a Game Card containing the featured list of words for that month at a local business and then collect stickers—one for each word on the card—from a friendly Word Coach at that location. 

The back side of the Game Card contains a list of fun games and activities for caregivers and their children, which help promote experiential learning at home.

It takes all of us to pave the path to success for our children.  We are grateful to the partners and organizations involved in bringing these programs to life. To join our efforts, or learn more about these projects, please visit berkshireunitedway.org.