Abigail Williamson was an English Language Fellow in Asuncion, Paraguay, from 2011 to 2013. Personally, Abigail developed meaningful friendships and found herself in a new and accepting culture that felt like home. Professionally, the experience she gained led her career down an exciting path post-fellowship.
In Paraguay, Abigail worked on a number of projects that had a widespread positive impact on Paraguayan English teachers and public schools across the country. She trained in-service English teachers in communicative methodology, organized a conference for more than 800 English teachers, and coordinated a large-scale book donation to every elementary public school with an English program.
One of the most far-reaching and sustainable impacts of Abigail’s fellowship was the design and publication of a free text for the Ministry of Education’s “English in All Grades” initiative. She collaborated with the national newspaper Ultima Hora to publish and distribute the material one chapter at a time for grades 1-3 in Paraguayan public schools. She helped promote this project on radio and TV as well. In 2016, Abigail returned to Paraguay as an English Language Specialist to continue this project and publish the text for grades 4-6.
These amazing projects helped change the way English is taught in Paraguayan classrooms. “The English teaching community in Paraguay is moving away from traditional lecture and grammar translation style,” says Abigail. “Teachers now view themselves as communication facilitators as they implement communicative methodology. The fellowship gave me the opportunity to meet thousands of teachers, and they were all so talented and committed to their field.”
Abigail is currently an English Language Learner (ELL) Instructional Coach with Salem Public Schools in Massachusetts, where she “supports teachers through one-on-one coaching cycles and district professional development to improve academic outcomes for [their] multilingual students.” Abigail explains that in Paraguay, she and the Ministry of Education “developed a strong trusting relationship and I realized that I could help them more if I knew a thing or two about how to create and implement policy within public education. So I went to the Harvard Graduate School of Education and received a Master’s degree in Education Policy and Management. The fellowship exposed me to the world of policy for the first time, and I was really drawn to it. I may never have had that type of access to the decision-makers here in the U.S., and I credit the fellowship for pushing my career in a new direction.”
Abigail describes her fellowship as transformational, both personally and professionally. “As a Fellow, I went from teacher to teacher leader. The program is a career launch pad and a great opportunity to experience another culture deeply and safely,” Abigail says.