District 91 is having Teacher Appreciation Day and Betsy Ross fourth grade teacher Jon Schiewe and Field Stevenson/Middle School vocal instructor Donna Budil are undoubtedly deserving of the deep appreciation of Forest Park’s residents”as a good portion are themselves former students of theirs. Combined, the two have sixty-eight years of experience. Schiewe has thirty-three years teaching, thirty-two with D91; Budil has thirty-five years, the entire time with the district. This, for all the Teacher Education majors out there, is how one becomes great at teaching”sheer dedication.
A man apart
“Jon teaches hands-on. He really makes it come to life for the kids,” said Betsy Ross Principal William Milnamow. “He really makes history come alive for them.” Milnamow would know; he has worked with Schiewe for the last five years.
But keep in mind that Schiewe’s history is longer than that. Speaking with him is like having one’s own private lesson in the history of Forest Park education, a history that extends far beyond Schiewe’s thirty-two years at the district. Schiewe’s father, Arthur Schiewe, taught for thirty-five years at St. John and has thirty-eight years in the Lutheran School System. Schiewe’s grandfather, William Schiewe, taught for forty-nine years. That is three generations with 120 years of teaching behind them. Teacher Appreciation Month is sort of like Father’s Day in the Schiewe family.
“It was unique,” said Schiewe of having his father as his teacher for math from fifth to eighth grades and for homeroom in seventh.
In fact, the familial connections with education run even deeper than the patriarchal lineage. Schiewe’s wife Vyonne is the pre-school director at Peace Lutheran Church in Lombard.
All of this experience undoubtedly leads to an excited recounting of memories and unique experiences. One of the first that comes to mind for Schiewe is his student Qubilah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter. He taught her during his brief stint at a Lutheran school in Mt. Vernon.
“Very brilliant,” said Schiewe of Shabazz, “She was very nice, very down to earth.” Schiewe also met Malcolm X’s wife, Betty Shabazz, and said she was a “very cooperative, very concerned parent.”
When it comes to Forest Park teaching memories, a first on the list is the countless field trips Schiewe has taken with his students. This is one of the ways in which Schiewe makes his classes come to life, one of his “hands-on” approaches. On one trip in particular, to Navy Pier for an excursion on a scenic boat trip, Schiewe discovered one of his former students was a boat captain at the Pier.
One trip that particularly stands out, however, was a trip to the airport. The bus drove onto the runway in front of the planes, which the students got to watch fly over their bus.
“They don’t do that now,” said Schiewe.
One unusual ‘field trip’ of sorts occurred daily”for half a year. In 1976, they didn’t have enough room, so Schiewe was forced to teach at the park in a vacant “warming house” where the ice skating rink used to be, before it was replaced with the current tennis courts. Schiewe would walk his class to the rink each morning and walk them back each afternoon.
Forest Park has come a long way from those days. In 1975, Schiewe explained, there was an average of forty-one students per classroom. In 2005, the average is down to eighteen. That is thanks to the twenty student cap that the district decided on three years ago.
A different kind of hero
Having worked for four different superintendents and nine principals, Donna Budil has seen her fair share of significant changes, especially considering how incredibly active she has been. Budil was the choir director for Wesley United Methodist, plays piano, does liturgical and wedding singing at area churches, and is a National Project Director for music scholarships in music education for the women’s music fraternity Sigma Alpha Iota.
She also frequently attends musical events in the area including high school musicals with former students and Lyric Opera events such as the Ring Cycle recently performed there.
“I’d never seen the Ring Cycle in its entirety. It was an amazing experience,” said Budil, “The orchestra was phenomenal. It had four harps.”
Budil originally wanted to be an opera singer while in college, but through student teaching found out how much she loved kids.
“Teaching started to take over my life,” said Budil. In 1970 she was offered several different possibilities for her future including college teaching positions at places such as DePaul; but she liked Forest Park so much that she stayed here instead. Budil teaches fifth through eighth grades, but her first twenty-seven years she taught K through eight, “which I loved,” added Budil, because she enjoyed watching the children grow.
Those children have oftentimes grown into fantastic musicians and musical performers.
Noteworthy is a former student who has a group in Chicago named Gan Bua. Another ex-student, Steve Mast, has his own rock band called The Waiting Game. Also, Elizabeth Perryman is in New York, working as an opera singer. And, Ryan Russ, another in the impressive list, has done successful work with Circle Theatre.
These talented former students often tell Budil how influential she was in their lives.
“I have students all over the country. They send Christmas cards,” Budil said.
Her current goals in influencing Forest Park’s youth”those future Christmas card senders”include broadening students’ tastes beyond the Top Ten trends such as rap and R&B.
“They need to listen to more than what’s on B96,” said Budil.
True to her word, Budil herself has a broad range of musical tastes.
“My students all think I listen to Beethoven, but I really love jazz,” said Budil.
But more than just jazz and classical, she also enjoys her beloved opera and has quite a collection of musicals.
“I’m kind of a videophile,” said Budil, “I adore Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.”
Witnessing a similar adoration in the expressions of students when they hear a piece of music new to them is a favorite of Budil’s. Budil calls it a light-bulb-over-their-head moment.
What’s most “cool” is the mutual respect Schiewe and Budil have for each other. “Jon was always supportive of my programs,” said Budil, “I worked with Jon for many, many years and he was always supportive.”
Schiewe reciprocated, saying, “She’s very creative. She’s energetic. She likes to work a lot and do a lot of programs.”
Those programs that they both speak about are building blocks to the future of Forest Park, sixty-eight years of experience that has been a formative part of the success that Forest Park is, and continues to be, thanks to the hard work of teachers such as Jon Schiewe and Donna Budil.