Citizen Feroli at home in Westwood

In calculus class, Eavan Monahan Feroli integrates an absolute value growth between the values of zero and 4.

By Linda Thomas
Correspondent for Hometown Weekly Publications

Eavan Monahan Feroli took a chance 15 years ago when she set sail and discovered life beyond the shores of her native Ireland.

Yet, as she ponders her favorite quote, “A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for,” this self-proclaimed rule-follower tends to envision herself as a ship safely anchored in a harbor.

Feroli reflects on the life she has built for herself, which she says very much happened as a direct result of her taking that chance.

“My core values of hard work, doing your best and being kind to others have driven most of my decisions to date — and have pushed me out of my comfort zone frequently,” she said. “By choosing to do my best every day I am forced to accept challenges that might feel beyond me or terrifying, but the results of my success or failure at this have made me who I am.

“And I try to instill this ethic in my students every day.”

Two days before St. Patrick’s Day, on March 15, 2017, the 37-year-old revered math teacher at Westwood High School and mother of Aidan (8) and Ciara (5) was sworn in as a naturalized United States citizen.

At last, she thought, it was a case of “why not?”

“It was another goal I could set myself and another opportunity to model, for my own children as well as my students,” she said, “the direct result of working hard towards something and hopefully achieving this goal.

Now in her 12th school year, Feroli encourages her students to take a risk in math class and to discover their abilities — “not always driven by me or my lead,” she says, “but by their internal motivation to learn and test themselves.”

The Girl From Wicklow

Feroli grew up the oldest of four in Wicklow, a small coastal town about 45 miles south of Dublin.

She channels her parents’ strong work ethic, and also putting family first.

“Hard work is something I value,” she said. “My mother, a retired math teacher, told us hard work will get you what you want in life … that it would also help you through if you weren’t getting what you wanted … that it would help you find a new way.”

Feroli draws inspiration from her mother’s passion for teaching and the impact she made on her students’ lives. She also takes her mother’s lead coming home after teaching full time and managing a home-cooked meal on the table every night. It’s a time, she says, reserved for she and her children to talk about their day.

It was the summer of 2001 — her junior year at the University of Limerick — when Feroli came to America on a 3-month J1 student VISA and worked on Martha’s Vineyard. She chose Boston primarily because she knew there was a large Irish population. For her, it was like being away, but not too far.

The following summer, after receiving her undergraduate degree in math education and physical education, Feroli returned to the Boston area — this time for keeps. She went on to earn her initial teaching license and a Master’s in math education from Bridgewater State University.

A Warm Demander

Principal Sean Bevan says Feroli has the ability to handle struggling and excelling students equally well — and able to tailor her approach to the needs of each student.

“One thing she does extraordinarily well is that she is what educational professionals would call a ‘warm demander,’ a teacher who communicates warmth to their students by pushing them to succeed,” Bevan said.

“Being demanding without pushing kids away can be a tricky balance to strike — and Eavan has perfected it.”

Jayson Schultz, now a senior, got the chance to school his teacher.

“When I went to see her for extra help, I would ask her about how everything was going with the citizenship process and we would end up reviewing questions she would be asked on the citizenship test.

“I was happy to help her study because I am interested in both history and civics, and the reciprocal study sessions helped both of us.”

Witnessing Feroli go through the process hit home for Schultz, as his great grandparents became naturalized citizens after immigrating to Massachusetts from Italy.

“While I never knew them, witnessing a new immigrant become a U.S. citizen before my eyes reminded me that we all have roots elsewhere and that immigrants make a positive impact on our society,” he said. “I believe one cannot be ‘more American’ than another; yet, sadly today the immigrant community is unfairly stigmatized.

“With the current political climate in mind, I was especially honored to have helped Ms. Feroli review for the test considering how hardworking and dedicated she is, which makes her an outstanding model of good citizenship.”

Jackie Ryan is just one of many students Feroli has tutored.

“I was in level two math courses and despite the fact that they were level two, sometimes I found the class was moving too quickly for me to keep up with,” Ryan said. “I may have understood chapter four, but when chapter five was combined with the previous chapter, I got confused, especially considering I am an observational learner and sometimes even learn better through experience. Looking at numbers and equations didn’t help my case.”

Now a senior at Fairfield University, Ryan remembers Feroli using real-life examples (counting apples or using salaries) to try and explain the material.

“She provided me with additional examples that were a little different than what we were working on so that I had full exposure to all of the different possible equations I could encounter. I am confident the techniques Ms. Feroli used to explain the material to me allowed me to succeed in these math courses.

“She was always very patient with me, and understood that sometimes I needed things to be explained to me in more than one way,” Ryan said. “Despite how frustrated I would get, Ms. Feroli always broke an equation down piece-by-piece, over and over again, until I fully understood it. Her dedication to my learning encouraged me to not give up.”

Ryan says she is grateful and appreciative she and Feroli still keep in touch years after graduating from high school.

Olivia Goldberg, a junior at Westwood High School, remembers that first day she sat in Feroli’s class freshman year.

“It was last block on the first day of school and it was level one math — and I was pretty scared,” she recalls. “But I knew when Ms. Feroli handed us our packet that it was going to be a good year because she just had that positive energy and seemed like she was going to be a great teacher.

“She was smiling. She was happy. She was very passionate about math — and you could tell that whatever she was going to explain she knew she was confident in what she was doing. She handed our packets and she was very like, ‘you’re going to be fine. This is a refresher so you know where you’re at and this is how we’re going to take the rest of the year.’ So, it was very reassuring of how I knew the rest of the year was going to go.”

It came as no surprise to Bevan when he learned Feroli considers Westwood “family.”

“We are a large enough school that we can offer a great variety of experiences for students,” he said. But, we are still small enough the people know each other well: students know each other, students know the staff, the staff knows the kids and vice versa.

“Eavan specifically works to get to know the kids, and so they were very happy for her for receiving her citizenship. With the current political climate on immigration in our midst, it is important for students in particular to experience and become educated.”

Bevan went on to say that it has been and always will be critical for students to develop into an educated electorate.

“This hasn’t changed,” he said. “And, I think we do that well. Our students are prepared well to go out into the world and contribute, even if the political landscape is different than the one they knew earlier in their lives.

“Eavan is wonderful. She's warm and engaging. It can be easy to gravitate toward the people in your own department, but she has friends all around our building, which takes effort and speaks to her good nature and friendliness.”

Ms. Monahan

Initially, Feroli saw the entire citizenship process as very much procedural, having come from a good country, now being welcomed officially into a great one. However, the response from her fellow newly sworn-in citizens and from her friends here in the United States has very much overwhelmed her and given her a deeper sense of what this process actually means.

“On the day of the ceremony, it was emotional to watch the responses of other candidates,” she said. “Others were immigrants like me, but many were refugees seeking a better life.

“I guess I had always taken for granted the rights I am privileged to have here — and seeing how much American citizenship meant to these others breed a new sense of achievement and pride in me.”

While waiting to be sworn in, she sat next to a woman from Greece. She learned the woman’s grandnephew is not only a student at Westwood High School, but sits in Feroli’s geometry class.

When she first began teaching, students knew her as Ms. Monahan. She decided to change back to her maiden name in part because of her divorce and the name change opportunity offered through the citizenship application process. So, when she returns for the next school year, she will be known, again, as Ms. Monahan.

Grit and Determination

Feroli purposely sets the bar higher than most students will attain. And it is the effort that students put in and their understanding that is most important to her.

“For me, all I expect from them is that they try their best,” she said. “And their best doesn’t have to be getting straight A’s. Their best is putting in the work and trying to understand the subject matter.

Though she describes herself as rule-bound, she has quite the adventurous spirit.

Kayaking, rock climbing and zip-lining. All of that thrills her, she said.

“But I want to do it in a safe way. So, for me, if I engage in activity, as long as I’m being safe and following the rules, I know I’ll have fun doing it.”

Feroli’s approach to life and learning parallels her philosophy of controlled risks for students.

“I admire a student who shows grit and determination in seeking a solution to any aspect of their lives,” she said. “At the high school level, they have a lot of support to take risks in a relatively safe way.

“I am excited when they graduate, leave the harbor and discover all life has to teach them, through good and bad.”

Editor’s Note: Linda Thomas writes for Hometown Weekly Publications. For comments and suggestions she can be reached at lindasfaces@gmail.com.

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