Alum Paola De Avila Pugliese ‘24 earns NCDPI recognition for championing multilingual learners

Our Alumni Spotlight highlights the contributions of Kenan Fellows, showcasing their significant roles in schools, districts and communities.

SANFORD, N.C.⸺At age 8 Paola De Avila Pugliese immigrated from her native Colombia to the United States. As a child, De Avila went through the public education system as a Multilingual Learner (MLL) but was unaware of the significance of English as a Second Language (ESL) courses until she became an ESL teacher.

Path to Educational Leadership

Her career in education began in 2015 as a teacher assistant. When the ESL teacher De Avila supported resigned, De Avila was offered an opportunity to replace her. De Avila completed the lateral entry education program at N.C. State University and has been committed to education ever since.

Today, De Avila serves as the ESL department head at Southern Lee High School in Lee County. Looking back at her career, De Avila sees how her experience as a multilingual learner has fueled her passion for advocating for MLL students, collaborating with colleagues from various departments, and engaging with parents and the community.

Her dedication has earned her various accolades, including the 2024 Southern Lee High School Teacher of the Year, the 2019 Dr. Lynn Warren Award for Outstanding Service to English Learners for Lee County Schools, the 2024 English Language Development (ELD) Recognition Award for Lee County Schools, and the North Carolina ELD Recognition Award by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

“This recognition from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction acknowledges the passion and excellence in my work with MLs, highlighting my commitment to engaging parents and the community, developing and implementing a new ESL curriculum, and strong advocacy for MLs in their academic journey,” De Avila reflected. “Throughout my career, I have aimed to foster a supportive and inclusive learning environment for English Learners, a cause that has always been close to my heart.”

Commitment to Multilingual Learners and Educational Equity

She credits the Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership at N.C. State University with providing her with opportunities for mentorship, networking, and leadership skills to advocate for educational equity. The Burroughs Wellcome Fund supported her fellowship in 2023-24. She completed her summer internship with LatinxEd

Paola De Avila and her mentor at LatinxEd stand before the Columbian flag.

The experience propelled her to engage with migrant and multilingual teachers and parents within Lee County Schools throughout the 2023-24 academic year. 

“These interactions provided valuable insights into the hurdles faced by migrant and multilingual students within the public school system,” she stated. “Many students expressed feeling unequipped to navigate the school system, relying on school counselors and teachers, due to language barriers and a lack of understanding regarding school requirements and available resources.”

Hearing these concerns, De Avila focused her fellowship project on creating a template for a school welcome packet for English language learners and their families. Once implemented, the packets will serve as comprehensive resources containing essential information about school policies, procedures and academic terminology. 

“This project stemmed from my recognition of the need for a more inclusive approach to welcome and support foreign families within our schools, De Avila stated. “Creating the welcome packets reaffirmed my commitment to implementing culturally responsive practices and advocating for the needs of diverse student populations to ensure that every student feels valued, supported, and empowered in their educational journey.”

Embracing Holistic Learning

In addition to her internship with LatinxEd, De Avila said the professional development she received through the Kenan Fellows Program gave her knowledge and skills that improved her teaching practice. Through the fellowship, she gained access to online platforms to create manipulatives and visual aids to reinforce language concepts and enhance understanding.

She also gained tips and strategies from engaging with other educators in her fellowship cohort. One strategy she began to use was to increase the frequency with which she communicated with her students. She used various channels of communication including email, phone calls, letters, and flyers to reinforce the skills they were learning in their courses and help students gain study skills, learn time management, practice self-advocacy, and set academic habits for long-term success.

Because of the confidence she gained as a Kenan Fellow, De Avila has created a more holistic and supportive learning environment for her students. The fellowship inspired her to participate in community outreach activities for organizations like El Refugio, El Vinculo Hispano, and partner with local organizations such as the Alliance of Black Leaders and Educators (ABLE), Partnership for Children and Families, Life Springs Church, and the Migrant Education Program, to connect with and support MLLs learning.

Above all, her fellowship has reaffirmed her commitment to lifelong learning and continuous improvement. De Avila expressed, “Even after the conclusion of my fellowship year, I have remained connected with my mentor and other experienced educators within the Kenan Fellows community. Their insights, advice, and encouragement have been instrumental in navigating challenges and exploring new opportunities.”