Fran Ferrara’s Teacher of the Year Award Culminates Long Journey in Teaching

By: Rachel Suga, Writer / Follow South Jersey Bridgeton City Intern

Ferrara (back left) with students at the Bridgeton Public Library.

BRIDGETON, N.J. — Teaching at Indian Avenue School for more than thirty years, Francis Ferrara has inspired his students, who range from kindergarteners through second graders, in a number of different ways.

Ferrara was born and raised in New Jersey, although he left the area to attend college in Wisconsin. He took a non-traditional path to his calling as an educator, as Ferrara dropped out of college and became a custodian with his friend, Ira Fine. He and Fine would later return to school together at what is now known as Rowan University, both becoming teachers out of a spur-of-the-moment decision they had made in a Bamberger’s breakroom.

Fine spoke fondly of his lifelong friend, as they have continued their relationship that began when they were in sixth grade all the way up until the present.

“I think he relates well to little kids because I think he just has a lot of ‘little kid’ in him — he’s one of those guys that just never grew up,” Fine said, smiling.

Ferrara began his teaching career with the hopes that he would substitute teach during his travels around the country as he visited friends. Soon after, he moved to Texas where he lived with other volunteers as they all taught at a Catholic school in the area.

Later, Ferrara would return to New Jersey to pursue his passion of giving back to his community through education.

A significant portion of the Bridgeton community speaks Spanish as their first language, which has created an environment for Ferrara to teach in both Spanish and English in his classroom. Applying his skills of teaching in multiple languages as well as being personable enough with children, Ferrara tries to make connections with his students, even during the pandemic — when it is more difficult than ever to be an educator.

“There’s a challenge as to what is the best way to teach the kids and what’s the best way to get through to them to make an impression with them,” Ferrara said. “Never more so than now when you’re at the disadvantage of trying to teach through a computer. It’s always hard to maintain their interest, but over a computer it’s really a struggle.”

Ferrara said that he is “up to the challenge” and actually finds his experience as an educator to be fun, even while he is grappling with new obstacles as time passes.

Deciding to go to school to be a teacher on a whim as a young person turned into a life changing experience for Ferrara, as he has built relationships with his students and the surrounding community.

Regardless of any struggles that have arisen over time, Ferrara is recognized for his connections inside and outside of the classroom. Fine noticed that numerous families and Ferrera have a familial relationship amongst themselves, noting that they treat each other “like an extended family.”

While Ferrara has been teaching for many years, his career has resulted in not only teaching children as students, but caring about them and their families on a personal level. According to Fine, the feeling is reciprocated from Ferrera’s community.

For his work in teaching, Ferrara was recognized as a recipient of the Governor’s Teachers of the Year honors for the 2020-21 school year.

This article was produced by a Follow South Jersey news intern thanks to a grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the New Jersey Health Initiatives program to create hyper-local news to meet the informational and health needs of the City of Bridgeton, N.J.