Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A message for Upper Darby from Jen Schoener

There is one person I have been waiting to hear from since the funding crisis broke out in Upper Darby and the decision was made to cut the so-called 'special' classes in music and art in elementary schools.

Her name is Jen Schoener. She is the widow of the late Brad Schoener, otherwise known as Upper Darby's Music Man. Brad was the beloved director of music at Upper Darby High, whose legacy built the powerhouse reputation of the Upper Darby music program. He had an effect on countless number of young children in the district.

I wrote in this space that I believed Brad would be rolling over in his grave at the moves now being contemplated by the district.

And I reached out to Jen Schoener for her thoughts. She responded that 'in some ways ways this is like watching him fight cancer a second time - except not in the physical sense.'

Jen no longer lives in the Upper Darby area, but she remains very close to those here, and she remains committed to the kids here.

'I will fight for these outstanding teachers and incredible arts programs with everything I have,' she said 'This was Brad's fear - that the children of Upper Darby would not have the benefits of the neighboring school districts because of funding - how quickly things have evolved in the four years since his passing.


I wondered in my blog what Brad Schoener would say, and reached out to her for her thoughts. I asked her if she would like to offer her take on the situation and said I would offer her the space in my blog to deliver them.

This is what she wrote:

What Brad Schoener Would Say….

Brad Schoener, my late husband, award-winning 25-year music teacher of the Upper Darby School District, came home to me one day after teaching a full week of school and then going to chemotherapy and said, “I have another interview… Some days I wonder if I would get all this attention if I didn’t have the cancer.” He was quiet for a very long time and then he said, “Well, I guess that is the reason God gave me this disease …. If it’s going to get my students the attention they need – then I guess that is why I have to go through this.”

After all the support, kindness, and recognition that Brad and his music program received from the Upper Darby School District - especially in his last five years… Brad would be IN DISBELIEF that this school board and this administration would even be considering the proposal of removing the specials from the curriculum.

Brad understood children better than anyone I’ve ever met. He knew that the children of Upper Darby needed the outlet of the arts to find out who they were as people. He knew how to bring out the ‘kid’ in the adults that he worked with – how to make fellow teachers and administrators want to learn to play an instrument for the first time – how to use music to bring tears to the eyes of an insurance company board who was telling him that he couldn’t have the medical procedure that he desperately needed – he knew that music and the arts are what makes us human.

That’s the reason why the creation of the Schoener Memorial Music Fund was his last wish – it’s why so many people have kept his vision alive in this district - including this board and this administration.

If Brad were here – the “Pied Piper of Upper Darby” would be readying his troops to lead the children of Upper Darby to a better place – a place filled with laughter, creativity, color, music, movement, imagination, and yes – FUN – why? Because research has shown again and again that children (and even adults) will learn better IF THEY ENJOY LEARNING AND IF THEY HAVE THE DESIRE TO WANT TO LEARN.

I will never forget how Brad used to leave for school some mornings and he would be wearing the loudest possible shirt he could find (which was not exactly the professional attire encouraged by the school district). He would get this big grin on his face and say “Well, if you were a 4th grader, would you rather have lessons with the guy in the suit or the guy in the tiger shirt?” Brad was a kid magnet.

I used to tease Brad when he would wear his MENSA pin to school and say “Do you really have to wear that? Isn’t that like bragging – saying that you are in the high IQ Society?” He’d look at me and say – “I’m just reminding certain people that there is more to my job than just handing out noisemakers – music is fuel for the brain – and that doesn’t always show up on paper or on the surface.”

Although Brad was famous for ‘being out front’ and the ‘center of attention’ – when it came to his students – he ALWAYS put them first. He loved the faculty, administration, and school board of the Upper Darby School District as much as he loved his own family. Today he would be questioning WHY his Upper Darby family is not fighting TOGETHER for funding and taking a stand TOGETHER to say – WE ARE UPPER DARBY AND WE DESERVE BETTER. Upper Darby has always “done more with less” - BUT WHEN IT AFFECTS THE CHILDREN – IT IS TIME FOR THE ADULTS TO SAY – ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Brad would be leading the pack to Harrisburg with the sound of trumpets and the thunder of drums – he would tell them: “Have FAITH in what you know to be true in your heart, your FRIENDS and your FAMILY are the same – WORK TOGETHER.”

But Brad would also add this…

“Remember – just as the story goes – if the adults refuse to do what is right… don’t be surprised if one day, the children of Upper Darby disappear…. And I won’t be the one leading them away – they will choose to go on their own.”


Jen Schoener, Widow of Brad Schoener

Chairperson, Brad Schoener Music Fund

Fundraising Chair, Upper Darby Arts & Education Foundation


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