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Reading readiness aim of new Central Berkshire program

  • Guitar-player Daniel Cutler of Ashfield was one of the performers at a Magic Portal event, held on Thursday evenings at Elmer’s Store in Ashfield. Cutler  helped found the event with Jane Goodale of Greenfield and Kaylia Lydgate.<br/>LAURA RODLEY

    Guitar-player Daniel Cutler of Ashfield was one of the performers at a Magic Portal event, held on Thursday evenings at Elmer’s Store in Ashfield. Cutler helped found the event with Jane Goodale of Greenfield and Kaylia Lydgate.
    LAURA RODLEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Morgan McIntosh-Smith,  8, of Ashfield entertains the crowd at a recent Magic Portal event in Ashfield, playing a drum while his mother, Towner Smith, sings.<br/>LAURA RODLEY

    Morgan McIntosh-Smith, 8, of Ashfield entertains the crowd at a recent Magic Portal event in Ashfield, playing a drum while his mother, Towner Smith, sings.
    LAURA RODLEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Guitar-player Daniel Cutler of Ashfield was one of the performers at a Magic Portal event, held on Thursday evenings at Elmer’s Store in Ashfield. Cutler  helped found the event with Jane Goodale of Greenfield and Kaylia Lydgate.<br/>LAURA RODLEY
  • Morgan McIntosh-Smith,  8, of Ashfield entertains the crowd at a recent Magic Portal event in Ashfield, playing a drum while his mother, Towner Smith, sings.<br/>LAURA RODLEY

A new program offered by the Central Berkshire Regional School District seeks to help parents get their toddlers better prepared for school and learning how to read. The Parent-Child Home Program, which is free, coordinates home visits by trained personnel to participating families, bringing books and toys to help parents educate their children, starting at 18 months. Families in each of the district’s seven towns, Cummington, Becket, Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru, Washington and Windsor, are eligible for the program.

The district is now signing up families for the next school year.

So far, nine families from Becket, Dalton and Hinsdale are participating in the program, with openings for 10 more families. The program, which is available to families for two years, “shows the parent how to use the toys or books as color recognition, using art in books to learn how to describe things to develop reading readiness in young children,” said William Cameron, district superintendent.

The toys and books used by program personnel, called home visitors, become the family’s property, at no cost to them. Over 40 visits are made to the home yearly. “There are benefits for other children in the household who come along, too. The intention is to prepare these children for success in kindergarten and first grade,” said Cameron.

Started nearly 40 years ago in Freeport, N.Y., the “program is typically seen in urban districts,” said Cameron. “People need this kind of help in rural areas as well as in cities where there may not be enough resources to help their children get ready for school.” Over the long term, the program has resulted in fewer students requiring special education and a higher graduation rate, he said.

Cameron said he brought the program to the attention of the district school committee because he had seen its benefits while working in school systems where it was long-established, such as in Pittsfield, which adopted it 1975.

Committee members approved the program for two years. The program costs $25,000 annually. The cost of the program this year will be covered by the Central Berkshire District $25.6 million budget for fiscal year 2013.

Gretchen Wells is managing the program through Child Care of the Berkshires, a North Adams agency that provides families with child care, education and support, currently using two home visitors. There will be a need for two more home visitors next year.

“We have found parents make very good home visitors,” said Cameron. They receive two weeks of training in preparation for visiting families’ homes.

“If somebody has a child who will be 18 months old by the beginning of school year, please call this office,” said Cameron. Their contact information will be given to Wells. For more information, call 684-0320, ext. 2.

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Fire victims fundraiser

Bread Euphoria, a bakery and eatery on Route 9 in Williamsburg, will hold a fundraiser Saturday for Eric and Monica Driver, who lost their uninsured Stage Road home in Cummington in a Feb. 9 fire. The couple, whose two cats and dog were killed in the blaze, plan to rebuild.

“They are good customers. We want to do our little bit to help,” said Bread Euphoria owner Mark Pollard of Cummington.

As a fellow Hilltowner, Pollard said he wanted to do something to help the Drivers.

Williamsburg resident Vince Snyder and his Rocky Hill Band will play Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m. There is no cover charge; a hat will be passed for donations. Pollard said he will donate 15 percent of proceeds from food and drink sales.

Donations are being collected for the Driver Rebuild Fund at Cummington Supply in Cummington; checks should be made out to Cummington Supply, with “Driver Rebuild Fund” written in the memo, and mailed to Cummington Supply, 18 Main St., Cummington, MA 01026. Florence Savings Bank branches are also accepting fund donations. For more information, call 268-7757 or 634-8868.

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Magic Portal

Elmer’s Store on Main Street in Ashfield hosts an ongoing Magic Portal, an event featuring music, poetry and improvisation, on Thursday evenings. The weekly event starts with a workshop at 6 p.m., which is followed at 8 p.m. by an open mike.

“Anything creative you have to share,” says Kalia Lydgate, who is coordinator and emcee of the event. On Feb. 28, Ashfield resident Frank Grindrod will present a workshop on emergency preparedness. Drinks are available for purchase from the bar, plus snacks and soup. The event is free and open to everyone in the Hilltowns and surrounding areas. For more information, call 628-4003.

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Sugaring season

Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture Gregory Watson will tap a tree to kick off the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association Maple Sugaring season at the Red Bucket Sugar Shack on Kinnebrook Road in Worthington on Monday. The event starts at 10 a.m., with the tree tapping scheduled for 10:30 a.m.

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