In Memoriam: Beth Braden
By Jason A. Dykstra, Director of Accountability & Testing, Instructional Data Division, Anne Arundel County Public Schools, and Former Principal of Southern Middle School
On April 30, 2014, Beth Braden, an outstanding educator, champion of arts integration, mentor to teaching artists, and great friend to Young Audiences, passed away. Thank you, Beth, for your passion, energy, and commitment to providing an arts-rich education to all students. Your legacy will continue through the many teachers, artists, and students you have influenced. You will be greatly missed.
“Hi Boss!” That was the typical greeting I would get at any given moment by Beth Braden during my five years as principal of Southern Middle School. She would have a smile on her face, a spring in her step, and she would simply move on with whatever she was busy doing at the time. That greeting, as it turned out, was more than a “Hi.” It was a sign of confidence that we are going to have a good day—that we are getting the job done—and that we are making a difference today. All in that one little phrase: “Hi Boss.” I think it was the way she said it that made me understand.
Of course, I am not sure that I realized that until after I had been working with Ms. Braden for a year and learned how special she was. For those who have had the amazing pleasure of working with Ms. Braden, we saw first-hand her passion for teaching, her love of students, and her dedication to making a difference every day. It would be unforgivable to forget her unwavering advocacy of arts integration. It was actually hard to have a conversation with Ms. Braden where she would not find a way to mention how the arts could help students. Even discussing eighth grade discipline referrals, she would remind us that more exposure to the arts would help those students. That’s it—we need more assemblies and experiences!
How do we possibly measure Ms. Braden’s contributions and importance to Southern Middle? Not only can it not be measured, her influence will live on at Southern Middle School for years to come. Her school spirit and commitment to the cultural arts will be remembered by all. Did I really have a choice but to agree to a slam poetry assembly? Ms. Braden reassured me that not only would the assembly go well, but our students would really benefit from the experience. It was no surprise that she was right on both points.
We all have very special memories with Beth Braden—whether it is amazing improv performances by the Drama Club & Zip Zap Zop, steel drums, African dance, field trips, dressing up for spirit days and Halloween, celebrating Dr. Seuss’ birthday and Emily Dickinson, lively classroom debates, Artful Thinking activities, cool projects, and, most importantly, seeing all of the arts showcased at the largest and best cultural arts event at the middle school level—The Arts Are Everywhere Gala. Those traditions will no doubt continue and we can thank Beth Braden for teaching us the value of the arts and how new and different experiences enhance our lives.
What makes Beth Braden truly special and unique, however, was her work in the classroom. Every day was 100%. Every day was an opportunity to reach a student. Every day was a chance to make a connection. Every day was designed to be a success. The result? Every day was the epitome of trying to make a difference. At times it could seem unconventional, but she never lost hope and was always willing to give a student another chance to be successful and they respected Ms. Braden for it. The biggest compliment I could possibly give is that I would have loved for both of my children to have had Beth Braden as their teacher. The great news is that thousands of students did have the opportunity to benefit from her passion, creativity, knowledge, and many talents. In addition, we got to work side-by-side with a fantastic educator. We were all very fortunate and we know it!
Both in and out of the classroom, Ms. Braden really just wanted her students to think outside of their box, to explore themselves through reading, writing, and the arts, and to communicate well-thought-out ideas and opinions. What would Ms. Braden want from us today? For us to think out of the box about the potential of our amazing profession, to explore more ways to create positive change in school, and to communicate all of our great ideas and opinions with each other. That is an easy and wonderful way to honor Beth Braden and her many contributions to education and our lives.
Sometimes we don’t have to say much to make a difference in a person’s life—“Hi Boss”—it was just the way she said it that made me understand. So thanks to you Ms. Braden—we are going to have many good days, we are going to get the job done, and there is no doubt that we are going to make a difference! “You Rock!”
Watch a short video that features Beth explaining why the arts are critical in every classroom.