Written by Guest Author: Juan Cabrera
We would like to introduce you to Kayla Paden. This talented musician and teacher shows us that dedication, passion, and kindness can make our dreams come true. Kayla loves meeting new international students, and she is an outstanding asset for Special Programs at the English Language Institute.
A Survivor’s New Found Passion
Kayla is a born-and-raised Springfield girl who was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer, when she was 7 years old. She went through chemotherapy treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where she and her mother spent 6 months, and Kayla became a cancer survivor.
During these 6 months, Kayla and her mother stayed at the Target House for St. Jude, a long term housing option for patients. Little did she know this was going to be the place where she was going to find her new passion.
At this facility, there was a piano donated by Amy Grant, and two piano professors were volunteering their time to teach patients how to play this instrument; this was the introduction to music in Kayla’s life. For a few months, Kayla was able to take classes, which also helped her forget about IV’s and medicines, and it was then when the Make-A-Wish® foundation paid her a visit to grant her a gift. Having the opportunity to travel anywhere or meet a celebrity, it was a pleasant surprise for everyone when little Kayla said “I want a piano”; a piano that she still has to this day, practices on every week, and teaches on.
MSHSAA, College, and Ancestors: Defining Moments
Once Kayla was back to Springfield, she was hooked up with a piano teacher, and she also learned how to play flute and saxophone. By the time high school came, she was doing flute, saxophone, voice, piano, and mallet percussion.
Kayla participated in MSHSAA district solo/ensemble contest, which she won with perfect score in flute, saxophone, and piano. This achievement led her to participate at the state level of the same contest where she played the piano. Her performance was so praised, she received a standing ovation by the judge. Shout-out to her teacher who she is really thankful to for preparing her for the contest.
When it was time to go to college, Kayla needed to pick one instrument from the many she played, so she decided to go with piano. She got her bachelors in piano performance at Missouri State University.
Kayla’s roots go back to her great-grandmother who was from Spain and great-grandfather who was Mexican. They met in the US and started a life here. Kayla has always felt a strong connection to her background, so, by knowing this, she felt inspired and started learning Spanish in middle school and continued through high school. Her love for language learning was empowering as she also sees music as a language, and she believes these are ways to communicate and express yourself.
Once in college, Kayla also wanted to continue her language learning journey, so she ended up getting both bachelor degrees, piano performance and another one in Spanish, but it didn’t stop there as she also got a minor in French as a requirement for her music degree.
Combining Her Passions
Close to finishing her bachelors, Kayla was trying to figure out what to do next. She had been teaching piano since 2010, right after high school, but she wanted to do something with language as well. At some point during her last year of bachelors, she heard about the English for Musicians program hosted by the Special Programs office at the English Language Institute. She immediately made the connection of her two passions: music and language. Consequently, after finishing her undergraduate degree, she started a TESOL (Teaching English to Students of Other Languages) graduate certificate at MSU.
Through a faculty member and a friend, Kayla got referenced to Paula Moore, the director of Special Programs, and after a successful interview, she joined the Special Programs team. Immediately after her graduate certificate, she got into a master’s program of piano pedagogy at MSU. She got a graduate assistantship in the music department half time, and Paula Moore was able to get her another half time assistantship with the English for Musicians program.
Working with the English for Musicians program was the perfect opportunity for her to combine language and music, her biggest devotions.
Loving the Job
Diversity, that is what she enjoys the most of her job. Meeting students from all around the world gives her the chance to grow tremendously as a teacher because she is able to relate to people with different personalities and diverse experiences. In other words, even though she may not necessarily travel around the world, she feels like the world is coming to her –a feeling she finds so rewarding. She likes celebrating differences and respecting all the different ways we can see life, even in music where we can hear how people perform and express their individuality. She highlights the importance of all the ways people communicate their ideas.
Recording music and publishing are long term goals for Kayla. She wrote a Research Guide that is very helpful to her students, and she would like to publish it one day. Other goals include learning, improving, and redefining herself as a teacher.
Words of Encouragement
Kayla has a piece of advice for students who are considering studying abroad: “do it!”. As a teacher speaking to a learner, she would like students to know how proud she is of them when they decide to jump on a plane and step away from what they know and from what they are comfortable in. She is fascinated by how students come to a completely new place, culture, and language in order to study and ultimately improve themselves, not only academically and professionally, but also personally.