Editor's Note: Beth Duda recently became a consultant to The Patterson Foundation and is guiding the foundation's team that is working on the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

I’m excited to begin my work as the lead consultant for The Patterson Foundation working on the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Over the years, I have made many deposits in my "bank of experience," which have led me to a passionate desire to better the lives of children -- something that is at the core of this campaign to ensure our youngest citizens are equipped to succeed in school and beyond.

Since I started my career, I have been labeled a director, a writer, an administrator, a producer, an actor, a marketing executive, a modern-day renaissance woman, and a teaching artist. I have performed in front of audiences numbering more than 1,500. I have taught thousands of workshops for students as young as age 3 and as old as 82. I’ve mentored teachers, developed arts integration experiences, and created numerous plays that have touched and entertained more than 55,000 young audience members. Though I’ve had varied experiences and a number of titles decorating my business cards, at the heart of it, it seems I have always been a teacher.

My interest in children started when I was a child myself. I would pretend to teach my stuffed animals to read long before I had mastered the skill. The summer of my ninth year, my neighborhood was chock full of children. Among them were my four-year-old sister and six of her four and five-year-old friends. The parents living in my working-class neighborhood did not send their kids to summer camp, so the preschoolers didn’t have anything meaningful to do during the summer and neither did my friend, Sandy, or I. What did we do? We founded our own “nursery school” and called it the S&B Nursery.

I vividly recall setting up a daily schedule. We worked on numbers, letters, colors, songs, dances, and visual art. The school met every day for three hours in the mornings, and we even held a graduation ceremony with construction paper mortarboards and diplomas.

When I was of college age, I went on to earn my BS in Education. Throughout my career, I’ve utilized my love of theatre and performance to develop outreach classes for schools focused on writing skills and literacy. Always of particular interest for me is to be sure students from low-income communities have the same opportunities to participate in quality educational experiences as students from higher-income neighborhoods.

And now, through my work with The Patterson Foundation and the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, I can take all of my past experiences and put them to use in being of service to our community.  Leading a team of The Patterson Foundation's consultants who focus on areas from early learning practices to data analysis, this initiative promises to make a positive difference in the lives of children. When our community cares about all children, it becomes stronger and better able to take on the challenges of our future.

The Patterson Foundation, which is an enterprise funder of the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, supports the regionwide vision of success in Manatee and Sarasota counties by facilitating opportunities for the lead organizations in both counties to learn and share with each other. 

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