Kayla Devenburg, an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Specialist for Duval County Public Schools, is an Alumni Ambassador for the U.S. Department of State English Language Programs. As an English Language Fellow in Panama (2016-2017), Devenburg worked in the Panama Bilingüe program, sharing ELT methods and best practices with high school and elementary teachers.
“My fellowship reinvigorated my desire to make meaningful change in TESOL education.”
At her host institution, Panama Bilingüe, Devenburg had the opportunity to coach teachers on communicative teaching methods. For these projects, she worked with a core group of teachers and fostered a strong dynamic with both the teachers and their students who were receiving lessons with the new methods. “Many of the young people I worked with were pre-service teachers, and seeing their growth became very special to me,” Devenburg shared. One group that she worked with taught in other schools in the mornings and came to her school to teach English in the afterschool program. Devenburg would often look out the window into the courtyard and see their large classes trying out one of the strategies she’d covered with them in a recent training. “These teachers were open and innovative, but their work often went unrecognized, Devenburg said. “To allow them to showcase their teaching, I organized a mini-conference where their students were the attendees. They demonstrated and explained the “why” behind their language teaching methods to these future teachers. This was a rewarding and empowering event for all of us.”
Another highlight of Devenburg’s fellowship was having her family come along for the journey. With her two daughters enrolled in a public school where they had English class with a Panama Bilingüe teacher each day, Devenburg gleaned unique insights about the program she was working in. “I was able to view my host program from a professional standpoint and a parent’s perspective. I got to work with these teachers, seeing their strengths, tireless work and challenges with the program, as well as seeing how my children were responding to it as students,” Devenburg said. This helped her identify new learning goals when working with the students, parents, and teachers. And in the process her kids’ teachers became lifelong friends for whom she developed deep professional respect.
Devenburg and her family also had fun immersing themselves in the community. They traveled often, exploring a different part of the country almost every weekend. They drove to the beach, to the mountains, to the capital, and to countless tiny towns, where they encountered the many different sides of Panama. “Living in Panama also gave us the courage to try new things. I practiced Zumba and my kids took guitar, ballet, and swimming lessons, which connected us with other moms and families. We also attended many parades of all types, which are a significant part of Panamanian life, and we even got to be in one,” Devenburg explained.
Devenburg’s fellowship gave her experience in a K-12 environment that allowed her to understand the challenges teachers face when they have limited resources. With this experience and her improved Spanish, she landed her dream job as an ESOL specialist in the public school district she attended. Devenburg values the ways that this new role mirrors that of her fellowship, in giving her autonomy to identify and meet the needs of teachers and students. “The work is very challenging, but the difference it makes in the lives of immigrant and refugee students and their families makes it worth it to me. My fellowship reinvigorated my desire to make meaningful change in ESOL education,” Devenburg said.
Devenburg continues to benefit from the connections made during her fellowship. A Fulbright researcher who was also working in Panama Bilingüe became a close friend and mentor. “I learned so much from her expertise and experience in teacher training, and we have presented together at conferences since returning home,” Devenburg shared. And since her fellowship ended, Devenburg has also returned to Panama twice, invited by her host institution to present to groups of in-service teachers. For Devenburg and her daughters, going back to Panama to visit and work with their friends and colleagues was a special gift. “These trips have been the highlights of my last two summers,” she said.
Kayla Devenburg served as an English Language Fellow in Santiago, Panama (2016-2017). She previously taught in the intensive English and TEFL certificate programs at the University of North Florida. She also has experience in various ESL and EFL settings elsewhere in Florida and in Japan. Kayla earned a bachelor’s degree in linguistics and a minor in TEFL from theUniversity of Florida, as well as a master’s degree in adult education and TESOL from the University of North Florida. Kayla is currently an ESOL Specialist for Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida.