Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading honored as a ‘Pacesetter’

The Sarasota-based reading advocacy organization received a top honor during Grade Level Reading Week in Philadelphia.

The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading was recognized as a national leader in advancing child literacy efforts at the annual Grade-Level Reading Week in Philadelphia.

The Suncoast Campaign, which is funded by the Patterson Foundation and runs reading and early learning initiatives in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties, was one of 29 campaigns out of 390 nationwide to be recognized as a ‘Pacesetter.’

“As wonderful as it is to be honored by the Campaign’s leadership, it’s exciting to imagine how this recognition can help us connect with other communities that share our dedication for moving the needle on grade-level reading,” said Beth Duda, director of the Suncoast Campaign.

The Pacesetter award went to communities that are tackling child illiteracy by focusing on early learning, daily school attendance and summer reading programs. Among many initiatives, the Suncoast Campaign has led the Suncoast Summer Book Challenge, an annual reading program staged at summer programs throughout the area where children receive bracelets for reading books, and kindergarten readiness bag distributions, where families receive early learning materials to help their child prepare for school.

More than 20 area education leaders, including Sarasota superintendent Todd Bowden, Manatee business owners Amanda Horne and Steve Roskamp and DeSoto Boys and Girls Club founder Ashley Coone attended the event in Philadelphia.The event is the nation’s largest annual gathering of education leaders focused on ensuring children are reading at grade level by third grade. Research has shown that children who are behind after third grade are less likely to graduate and are more likely to deal with a host of life challenges.

Duda said the group returned home with new ideas on how to get kids reading by third grade.

“The spirit of sharing actionable takeaways nationwide is at the heart of GLR Week and this nationwide network of people, organizations and communities rallying behind our children and their families,” Duda said.

Bronwyn Beightol, Manatee Area President at the United Way Suncoast, attended the conference. Beightol said her biggest takeaway was the reminder that organizations working together to advance literacy need to listen closely to the families they serve.

“It was a strong nudge toward ensuring we have all the community’s voices at the table and that we are meeting our families where they live, work and play in our community,” Beightol said. “We had a whole mentoring session and the takeaway was to ensure we work with our children with an understanding of what their lives are like on a daily basis.”