Moving NYC Forward

October: Literacy

Congratulations to our Spotlights of the Month, Beth Dukes, New York Public Library and Nina Simone Stovel, United Way of New York City!

As the pandemic closes out its fourth year, New York City’s literacy crisis grows. Both Beth and Nina are leading the charge making meaningful and measurable progress to close the literacy gap.

Beth Dukes

Manager of Afterschool Programming
The New York Public Library
How did you get to where you are today?

I have always prioritized being in service in my career, and have stayed open to new experiences and possibilities. I originally began my career as a teacher, thinking that I would spend a few years getting experience “in the field” before applying that experience to a more policy-oriented role. I ended up enjoying it so much that I eventually earned a master’s degree in teaching and stayed in the classroom for longer than expected.

I’ve always loved libraries and librarians, so I was absolutely thrilled when I saw a role for educators at the New York Public Library eight years ago. During my tenure at NYPL, I have anchored my day-to-day work and big-picture imaginative thinking in terms of how to best get our youngest New Yorkers excited about reading and learning.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the growth I have seen not only in the students I have worked with, but in the adult librarians, educators, and emerging educators I have coached and mentored. I have been lucky to work with so many talented, compassionate, curious, and thoughtful colleagues, and it’s been an honor to help many of these folks find their confidence and voices.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?

To be an educator is to be a lifelong learner. Keep yourself accountable for staying up-to-date with emerging research in the field, and for maintaining an openness and curiosity toward your colleagues and the youth you serve.

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

I visited New York for the first time when I was ten years old and immediately intuited the grid of Manhattan, expertly hailed every cab, and figured out a hack for avoiding the bathroom lines at Broadway shows during intermission (go to a nearby fast-food restaurant). While it would take many more years for me to actually move here, I can honestly say that I knew I was destined to be a New Yorker all those years ago. (And after celebrating 10 years of living, working, and community-building, and participating here in July, I hope that I’ve now officially earned the title).

Nina Simone

Associate Vice President, Education Equity
United Way of New York City
How did you get to where you are today?

I think I’ve been called and guided to exactly where I am. My work truly sits at the intersection of purpose and passion. I can see how every personal and professional challenge has prepared me to drive citywide system-level educational equity in this role at the United Way of NYC. I am a reflection of the dynamic educators and mentors that have challenged and uplifted me— from Montessori to K-12, through undergraduate and graduate school, I have had diverse educators, principals, professors, and department leads every step of the way that were able to see, shape, and nurture a girl from Brownsville to believe she could do anything.

What are you most proud of?

Being a part of the Education Equity Action Plan Coalition (EEAPC), bringing the first ever PK-12th grade Black Studies curriculum to all New York City Public Schools students gives me immense pride. I am both serving and honoring my ancestors while preparing a better New York City Public Schools to serve my three Black boys and all children. Our city is the most diverse city in the nation and ALL students deserve to see themselves reflected in the curriculum and in their classrooms. I’m proud to live such an intentional life.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?

Literacy truly is freedom. Always remember the fate of schools and communities are inextricably linked. Students and teachers don’t exist in a vacuum. Center your work on community and it will be fruitful.

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

I went to the illustrious HBCU (Historically Black College and University), North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, NC and it was abundantly clear to me then that I was a New Yorker. I’d go a step further and say I’m a Brooklynite. The center of the universe is Brooklyn, for sure.

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