Tag Archives: Paul Ferrante

Sofia’s Abuela

As a veteran language arts teacher, Paul Ferrante makes sure to expose his Westport middle school students to a multicultural array of writers.

And as a published author himself, Ferrante encourages his pupils to enter writing contests. In his 13 years teaching in Mount Vernon, New York, and 20 years at Bedford and Coleytown, approximately 70 students have won awards.

When Altice USA — the parent company of Optimum and News12 — announced a Hispanic Heritage Month essay contest, Ferrante passed the info on. The prompt: Write about a Latino person, past or present, who inspires you to dream big.

Five of Ferrante’s Bedford Middle School students entered. Most wrote about people they knew from books, culture or history.

Sofia Alarcon wrote about her grandmother.

Sofia Alarcon

The 7th grader described her abuela’s life: A political dissident in Argentina who made it her mission to free adults from poverty by teaching them to read and write, Edith Staheli and her husband were arrested by the government.

He disappeared; she was deported. She returned years later — after working in exile for social justice — to educate the poor.

Sofia wrote:

My grandmother inspires me to always give my all and nothing less, and to help those less fortunate than me. She inspires me to try hard, because you don’t know if you can do something if you don’t try. It is her strength that inspires me to fight till the end and this strength motivates me to never stop believing in a more just and equal world.

Because she didn’t stop.

It was a beautiful, insightful essay, Ferrante says.

The judges agreed. They awarded Sofia first prize — and a $1,500 scholarship.

“Her personal stake comes through loud and clear,” Ferrante notes. “Sofia created a passionate tone. And her narrative hook brings the story full circle, in the conclusion.”

The award “couldn’t happen to a nicer person,” he adds.

Sofia’s grandmother, Edith Staheli.

It’s particularly meaningful for 2 reasons, Sofia’s mother Natalia Frias-Staheli, says.

For one, Sofia thinks of herself as a “STEM” — science, technology, engineering and math — person. In writing the essay, Ferrante encouraged her to push outside her comfort zone.

For another, Sofia’s grandmother died suddenly in September. She was just 66, with many projects still ahead.

Felicitaciones, Sofia. You are already dreaming big!

Paul Ferrante: “The Beatles Must Die!”

Paul Ferrante was in 2nd grade when President Kennedy was killed. That’s his first real memory.

The second is from a few months later: The Beatles performing on “Ed Sullivan.”

More than 50 years later, Ferrante is a 7th grade language arts teacher at Coleytown Middle School. His students are only a few years older than he was then, huddled around a black-and-white TV “like the rest of America,” he says.

Kids today have gazillions of channels to choose from. Rock ‘n’ roll has given way to rap, hip hop, EDM, emo and more.

Paul Ferrante

But, Ferrante says, kids still love the Beatles.

He includes the band in his poetry curriculum. His students look at lyrics. They watch videos. They talk about the American culture, then and now.

When graduates come back to say hi, they ask if Ferrante still teaches the Beatles.

So it’s no surprise that the Fab Four are the subject of Ferrante’s most recent book. In addition to teaching, he’s a noted young adult author. His T.J. Jackson Mysteries series follow the paranormal investigations of 3 ghost-hunting teenagers from Gettysburg to New Orleans (with a stop in Fairfield County).

His 7th book — “The Beatles Must Die” — is as different from those mysteries as John, Paul, George and Ringo are from the Andrews Sisters.

The novel follows Marnie, a fan in Memphis who must make a choice between the group and her conservative community, after John Lennon’s famous “We’re more popular than Jesus” remark results in banned and burned records, even death threats.

John Lennon’s 1966 “Beatles are more popular than Jesus” quote drew a belated — but fierce — backlash.

As Ferrante notes, there are countless books about the Beatles’ music and lives. His is a rare piece of historical fiction, aimed at teens and older readers.

Why are kids still interested in the group, whose 2 surviving members are both well over 64?

“The music holds up,” Ferrante says. “They hear it from their parents. They still think it’s great stuff.”

Plus, he says, “they’re fascinated by the videos of all the girls going crazy.”

His students are intrigued to hear about a time before the internet, when most families had only one television and music came through transistor radios.

That’s why Ferrante — in his 19th year at Coleytown — sees kids in class wearing Beatles t-shirts.

He researched his book well. He read books, and watched the “8 Days a Week” video about their tours.

He built his story around real events — like the actual KKK death threat against the Beatles at their Memphis show. (They played anyway.)

Ferrante also gave his protagonist a strong character. She understands the importance of free speech, and the value of sticking up for herself.

“I’m a teacher, after all,” Ferrante says with a smile.

Yeah, yeah, yeah!