Assistant Principal John DeStefano’s music education background led him to FHC

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It is amazing how people can amaze you right out of the gate with life changing stories. Many come from grandpas and grandmas, describing how they lived through the Depression. Some are from distant family members, showing you their glamorous lives. There are substitute teachers who spend the entire hour talking about themselves. And then there is Assistant Principal John DeStefano. He is one of these people.

DeStefano’s surprising background led him to the halls of FHC. He has been working in the school for 19 years, both in the band department and in administration. Music was not always number one on the list to-dos for DeStefano, but his love for music started when he was a child, but that was not the only thing that made him want to be an educator.

“[It was] the teachers that I had in high school [that made me want to become a teacher],” DeStefano said. “ I also loved music and was passionate about it. I started that when I was really young, and I was pretty good at it.”

Throughout high school in Pittsburgh, PA, DeStefano was able to develop a strong relationship with his school’s band director, who made him want to continue his music career and take it to college. DeStefano had such talent that he was being asked at the age of 16 to direct other high school drumlines. Teaching these marching bands led him to coaching the Drum and Bugle Corps: Phantom Regiment, a prestige professional marching band that travels around the country competing in different competitions after getting out of Indiana. All the while as he was coaching, he was also doing something very important for the city of Pittsburgh.

“I was a paramedic for the community of Churchill after I did my 80 hours of hospital service in the city of Pittsburgh at Allegheny General Hospital. I saw a lot of gunshot wounds, a lot of stab wounds, and it was actually very cool [to see],” DeStefano said.

It was not only his career as a paramedic that made him love medicine. He has loved it for a long time. But then, DeStefano decided it was time to go to college. He decided to attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania. According to DeStefano, prior to deciding on pursuing music, he studied medicine. While studying medicine, his uncle, a doctor at University of California of Los Angeles’s (UCLA) medical school, encouraged him to apply to medical school. DeStefano applied to UCLA and Johns Hopkins University, and he was lucky enough to be accepted to both. However, he was torn between going down the medical route or becoming a music teacher.

“I decided to pursue music, and went to school for music at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and got my undergrad there,” DeStefano said.

But he didn’t spend too much time hanging around Pennsylvania after graduating. Once he achieved his undergrad, while teaching the Phantom Regiment, he drove down to Texas where he got his first teaching job. After teaching band there for 4 years, he made his biggest move yet: Nebraska.

“When I was in Texas, I was taking more grad classes at San Marcos State University when my professor [told me to] look at going to Nebraska, as they really need an undergrad drum tech to go out there. I sent in my application, got a call, and they said they would love to have me come out,” DeStefano said.

He agreed to do it; So he loaded up the truck, and moved to Nebraska.

He ended up spending more time there than he expected. DeStefano spent over five years at the University of Nebraska, where he got a double masters in performance, percussion and pedagogy. After he graduated from the graduate program, the University hired him to be the marching band director and the percussion professor. What comes with being the head marching band director can be taxing. DeStefano was in charge of creating a new and improved Division, one worthy of a halftime show every week, constantly writing music and constantly teaching music to his students.

I think we have bright kids, and most of all, I think we have caring, compassionate kids and people overlook that”

— John DeStefano

After some questionable actions from his teaching colleagues in Nebraska, he felt that he needed to resign, which is when Forest Hills came into his picture.

“I went online and a day later [the assistant band director slot at FHC] opened up,” DeStefano said.”I filled out the application, got a call the next day, flew in and interviewed, and then I flew back out. [Later], I packed up [my family’s] stuff and [my wife, daughter, and myself] drove to Michigan.”

After taking the job and deciding to move to Michigan, DeStefano realized that he, his wife, and their newborn had nowhere to live. And with him leaving for bandcamp the day after they arrived, they were in a pinch. According to DeStefano, he was calling several resources to find a place to stay. They finally found a house, and that was the beginning of their roots in Cascade.

When prompted with the question of, “Why stay in Michigan when you have been so many other places?,” he replied with, “I love my job.”

DeStefano has been a part of FHC for 19 years, working with the administration for six. He has grown to love the traditions, the welcoming nature of the students, and how connected the school is, as well as the students.

“I think we have bright kids, and most of all, I think we have caring, compassionate kids and people overlook that. But they are good kids,” DeStefano said.

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