EGG HARBOR CITY — Cedar Creek High School has selected its Teacher and Educational Services Professional of the Year for the 2018-19 school year.
The honorees are English teacher Stephen Ferguson and guidance counselor and peer mediation adviser Donna Marie Ferriola-Brosh.
Ferriola-Brosh grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of Bensalem High School and Rowan University with a degree in mathematics and secondary education. She received her master’s degree in school counseling from Wilmington University.
She is married to husband Mike and has two sons, Brett and Drew. She has been a counselor at the school for four years and previously held that position at Oakcrest High School for eight years.
Before becoming a counselor, she served as a mathematics teacher, varsity head basketball coach, varsity head soccer coach and assistant softball coach at Millville High School for ten years.
Ferriola-Brosh enjoyed school while growing up. “I was a three-sport varsity athlete and honor roll student,” she said. “I looked forward to seeing my teammates at the end of the day, and especially competing in our games. I enjoyed learning new concepts in class, especially math.”
She knew early on that she wanted to get into the field of education. “In my math classes in high school, I would help the students that sat near me,” she said. “When I was in senior year of high school, I remember thinking about my math teachers that I have had growing up and realized that none of them were female. That solidified my goal to be a mathematics teacher. When I was coaching and teaching math at Millville, the next natural progression was for me to become a counselor. My players would confide and lean on me for support, which helped me decide on counseling.”
“In counseling, I love to see the students grow and mature over the years. I especially love seeing the acceptances to the seniors’ colleges that they applied to. This job is very rewarding, and every day is different. I enjoy counseling my students and meeting with them at least three times throughout each year.”
“You need to be nonjudgmental and compassionate. A counselor that can be flexible is also a good trait. You can have a schedule all mapped out for the day but will need to change that at the drop of a hat when a student needs you in the middle of a crisis. A counselor wears many hats, and communication and the desire to help others are key.”
“Everyone’s story is different. I don’t judge or criticize when students confide in me. I am there for them, to listen and to be compassionate. Some students just need others to listen. I am genuinely “all in” when I work with a student. There should be no other way.”
“I have had many people help and guide me over the years. A couple individuals that stand out are John Cocuzza and Karen Cavalieri. John was my guidance supervisor at Oakcrest High School. He hired me for my first counseling position. He gave me guidance and structure and molded me into the guidance counselor I am today. He never said no or that he did not have time to answer my questions. The Oakcrest guidance department was so helpful and wanted to help me learn. John is equally as caring and compassionate in every aspect of his life. I cannot thank him enough for believing in me and helping me grow. I will always treasure the influence he had in my life.
“Karen was my college basketball teammate at Rowan University. Her friendship and unconditional love continue to help me every day. It has been a blessing to be her friend and her colleague as not many people have that opportunity. I am truly grateful for that gift in my life. Her guidance through all these years have helped me enhance my skills professionally and grow as an individual. We are 25 years strong together.”
She loves serving in her position at her school. “I enjoy Cedar Creek High School’s school spirit,” she said. “The staff is always supportive with each other. My guidance peers that I work with are my work family. Along with the students, they make coming to work enjoyable. I love what I do and I love where I work.”
“I learned that I was named ESP of the Year when Mr. Parker, the school’s principal, made an announcement on the loud speaker during homeroom time. My guidance coworkers then rushed into my office and congratulated me with hugs and yelling “surprise.’ Another announcement was made at the pep rally later that day.”
Ferriola-Brosh stays in touch with her former students. “I love to get updates from them when they graduate,” she said. “This job is very rewarding and is a “feel good” job. Working twelve years as a counselor I have worked with many students, all different in their own way. Each of them has helped me become the best counselor that I can be. I love my job.”
Ferguson grew up in Galloway Township and currently resides in Somers Point. He has taught at Cedar Creek since the school opened nine years ago. He currently teaches Honors English 1 and College Prep English 1.
He is a graduate of Absegami High School. He then received a bachelor of arts degree in English education from The College of New Jersey and a master’s in educational learning, design and technology.
Ferguson enjoyed school while growing up. “I was very involved in high school, but most of all I've always loved learning new things,” he said. “To this day, I read constantly and research things online to find out more.”
“I knew I wanted to become a teacher before I knew what subject or grade level I wanted to teach. I come from a family of teachers. My grandfather was a teacher, principal and superintendent, in addition to my aunts and cousins who are teachers. My parents are both involved in education as well. So, I grew up valuing education and the importance of learning. Then when I was 16, I started teaching swimming lessons with Plymouth Landing Swim School. Even though it was a different age group than I work with now, I quickly realized that I loved this type of work.”
“The best thing about being a teacher is the lasting impact of my work. Over the last nine years, I taught over a thousand students in my classes alone, not including extracurricular activities and sports. When I hear about all of the amazing things our alumni are doing, and if I was able to help them get there, it is the greatest feeling in the world.”
“I have learned the most from my most challenging students. In the moment, rough behavior can be so frustrating but when I reflect on what happened and why, it is from those situations that I have grown both professionally and personally. When I check my ego a bit and really think about why a student acted that way and what he or she may be going through outside of the classroom walls, that's when I learn. In my career, I am most proud of the times when I can take that reflection and use it to try to forge a better connection with those students. We have a lot of students in this area who need help beyond writing a complete sentence or analyzing the development of the theme in a novel.
He found out about his award the same way as Ferriola-Brosh. “On Friday, our principal, Scott Parker, announced over the loudspeaker this year's Teacher of the Year and ESP of the Year,” Ferguson said. "Mr. Parker announced it again at our Winter Pep Rally that afternoon. All the students and teachers have been overwhelmingly supportive.”
“I love being a Cedar Creek Pirate. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to start my teaching career at a brand new school. Day 1 of the school being open was my first day on the job, so I’m growing old with the building. That said, I cannot imagine a better school to begin my teaching career. Everyone — teachers, administrators, secretaries, custodians — is so supportive. I’ve become a better teacher by learning from everyone here.”
He was asked his favorite subject to teach. “Just one, that’s tough,” he said. “I love when we do our poetry unit every year because we have learning stations that allow the students to create some really amazing pieces. I also “nerd out” a bit when it comes to mythology because ancient Greece and Rome were my favorite periods to study in college. But I would say that my absolute favorite lessons, mostly because of their potential real work impact, are those that integrate themes of social justice. Knowing about a work of literature can be great for its cultural capital, but it is far more important if that book’s theme can help someone to become a better and more compassionate person. Those lessons transcend the classroom walls and years in high school.”
Ferguson credits two individuals as being mentors. “I had many great professors in college, but one in particular, Dr. Emily Meixner, really helped set me up for success in the teaching field,” he said. “I took three classes with her, plus an independent study, and I used everything from those classes in my early years as a teacher. She laid the foundation for me to become a teacher. I can definitively say that I would not be the teacher I am today had I not had Dr. Meixner in college.”
“Another person who I would be remiss not to mention is our librarian, Christine Finn. She challenges me in the best way possible to think deeply about my craft, not just what I’m teaching but how and why I am teaching it. From early on, Christine has encouraged me to be on the forefront of best practices, implement ideas gleaned from actual research being done in education and avoid falling into a rut of past practices.”
“The hardest parts of teaching most students or parents will never see. What happens in the classroom is the easy, and fun part of the job. Those are the parts that make all the work behind the scenes worth it. Anyone who wants to be a teacher needs to be prepared to work hard because the day starts well before the first-period bell and the work continues long into the evening and weekends.”