Shyla Vesitis '96
“To carve my own path,” says Shyla Vesitis ’96 when asked about what she learned during her time at Radford University. “And to not be afraid to take risks.”
Vesitis is a Title I/III Specialist with the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). Her job entails developing and implementing high-quality programs in compliance with federal and state laws as a means of improving instructional services to disadvantaged students and English-language learners (ELLs). It is a position she almost certainly would have never obtained had she not taken a few risks along the way.
“I entered Radford University as a French major and a Spanish minor with a plan to teach high school French,” explains Vesitis. “While student teaching at Pulaski County High School I came across a student in my French class who spoke only Chinese.”
Despite being a student teacher and having no experience with ELLs, Vesitis began tutoring the student in English. “It was helping this student learn English that inspired my interest in working with ELLs,” says Vesitis.
After earning her undergraduate degree, Vesitis decided to pursue her newfound interest, re-enrolling at Radford University, this time to obtain a master of science in education, curriculum and instruction.
“My professors at Radford were supportive of me finding my niche,” Vesitis says. “To not necessarily follow the mainstream.”
Vesitis found her niche while serving as a graduate assistant, working with prospective Radford University students who did not yet have a level of English proficiency to enroll. “Radford University helps develop the whole student, but at some point you need to take the initiative. You need to find what opportunities are available and seize them,” Vesitis continues.
Seizing upon this experience served her well – upon receiving her master’s degree, Vesitis accepted a teaching position with Galax City Schools.
“Galax had 104 students that were ELLs,” explained Vesitis. “So, in my first year of full-time teaching I started Galax City’s first English as a Second Language (ESL) program.”
After a year in Galax, Vesitis relocated a couple of different times, serving as an ESL instructor for Fairfax County public schools for seven years before moving on to a private school to serve as a general education teacher. Vesitis returned to her ESL roots in 2013, this time in Greene County, Virginia. It was there that she would continue to “carve her own path.”
“I presented at a conference on Academic Language Development for ELLs,” says Vesitis. “Some employees of the VDOE heard about the presentation and subsequently invited me to participate in English Language Arts seminars that the VDOE were presenting around the state.”
It was shortly after that experience that Vesitis saw an opening with the VDOE that seemed custom-made to her experience. But she was hesitant to apply.
“I was worried I was not qualified – I had never been in an administration role before,” Vesitis explains. “Then I remembered my experience at Radford. I remembered how supportive my professors and advisors were in helping me carve my own path.
“Without that encouragement or support, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Vesitis says.
And today her job with the VDOE has Vesitis back in the classroom – in a way. She will be taking on more responsibilities involving interacting with classroom teachers in helping them design lesson plans to integrate ESL development standards with the Virginia Standards of Learning.
“One of my professors at Radford University once told me, ‘Don’t stop teaching – you are a natural.’ So I didn’t,” says Vesitis.