Online News Day or Knight - Official news site of North Penn High School - 1340 Valley Forge Rd. Lansdale, PA

The Knight Crier

Online News Day or Knight - Official news site of North Penn High School - 1340 Valley Forge Rd. Lansdale, PA

The Knight Crier

Online News Day or Knight - Official news site of North Penn High School - 1340 Valley Forge Rd. Lansdale, PA

The Knight Crier

Leaving on a good note

Peyton Stagliano
Mrs. Milbourne connects with her students through music and on a personal level. This is just one of the many ways Milbourne believes music has benefitted her life.

For years, Erica Milbourne has stood on the same stage, in the same spot, with the same level of pride and accomplishment for her students, however, this time it feels different. As she takes the stage Milbourne is overcome with this unfamiliar feeling. Maybe it’s because there are some new students, or the lights are brighter that night. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because Erica Milbourne knows as soon as she steps off that stage she will never step back on. 

On May 7th, Erica Milbourne stepped on stage for North Penn’s annual spring concert for her last time as the Orchestra and Chamber Ensemble Director. After teaching for 31 years, Milbourne has officially decided to retire and take some much-needed time for herself.  

I knew at some point I was just going to have to rip off the band-aid and retire,” Milbourne chuckled. “But it was bittersweet to get up there for the last time”. 

Milbourne has been teaching for 31 years with 28 of those years spent in the North Penn School District. Milbourne started her North Penn career working at Knapp and Montgomery Elementary Schools as a general vocal music teacher and eventually switched to teaching at Knapp and Bridle Path before taking on a much larger role at Penndale Middle School and North Penn High School.  

“I loved teaching elementary school students. I just loved the innocence of that age level. The wonder and the surprise that you saw in their eyes with each new thing they learned. I still get that in high school but it is just on a different level,” Milbourne revealed. “I feel like at the high school age it is more of students realizing that they can do something they didn’t think they could do. Elementary school students meanwhile don’t even know what’s possible. It’s all just something new and exciting for them”.  

For Milbourne, helping people find music and the many different ways it can benefit them has always been important to her. Important enough that Milbourne originally went to school to study music therapy. 

“When I was deciding what to major in my interests were journalism, music, and psychology, so in my head, I thought music therapy gave me the music and the helping aspects. Music therapy has been used in a variety of ways to help cancer patients, people with developmental disabilities, childbirth, and so much more, so I truly thought this was the path for me,” Milbourne shared. “However, during the first semester, I did some field observations and decided that was not the path for me”. 

After closing the doors on music therapy, Milbourne continued her search for the path that felt right for her. Although she faced a lot of uncertainty, Milbourne is grateful she followed her heart because she ended up with the best job she could imagine. 

“I was a performance major for a couple of years and somewhere in the middle of that second year, I decided that I might like to eat at some point,” Milbourne laughed. “I didn’t want to be a starving musician so I figured I could get an education degree that way I could always still perform because with a performance degree, you can’t teach. I guess it was more of a logical decision that I made, it wasn’t driven by any musical thing. But once I started doing it I just fell in love with it and it has been really wonderful to give kids that love for music that I had when I was a young kid”. 

When Milbourne thinks back to the first time she fell in love with music, she distinctly remembers learning about that love through a teacher. For Milbourne, it is important that she can continue to help her own students find that same love. 

“That is what kept me involved when I was younger, I had teachers that really instilled that passion in me so it has just been really great to give that to other students,” Milbourne shared. “I don’t have many students who go on to become musicians or do something in the music field, but they leave here having music as an outlet. In many cases, it is a way for them to relax and decompress. It is something that no one can ever take from them”. 

Waking up every day to go to work is difficult for most of society. For Milbourne however, that is the best part of her day.   

I feel in many ways like one of the luckiest teachers in the world. I never had a year where I couldn’t wait to get away for break. I have loved my students every year,”

— Erica Milbourne

“I feel in many ways like one of the luckiest teachers in the world. I never had a year where I couldn’t wait to get away for break. I have loved my students every year,” Milbourne expressed. “When you don’t feel like you are working, you know you are in the right place and that has pretty much been my entire career. Yes, there are days when things don’t go right but you really have to love what you do, especially as teachers. You spend more time with your students than you do with your families so you really do need to be invested”. 

With each passing school year, Milbourne has always been excited about the new opportunities ahead.

“I like to think of every year as having a new canvas I can paint on. Every year that canvas gets wiped clean and then we are able to start over and have new experiences, new music, and new challenges,” Milbourne shared. 

While being a music teacher and director is very time-consuming, Milbourne has still found ways to incorporate music outside of her school life. 

“I still lead a very active professional life outside of school with performing. I am a member of the Lancaster Symphony, I have been playing there for about 23 years. I am also a part of many small quartets and we perform at weddings and stuff like that,” Milbourne revealed. 

Milbourne will often perform outside of school for some extra money, but she finds those performances not nearly as important as the ones she does for free. For Milborune, music is something she wants to use to spread goodness, not to gain money. 

“The money from those things is nice but I also do a lot of things for no charge like I go and play at nursing homes. I never knew what that life was like until my mother was in an independent living facility. Fortunately, I was able to visit my mom almost every day but there are so many elderly people living in communities that don’t have people that visit them or family that live nearby. It can be a very lonely life for some of them, so my friends and I will go and hang out for an hour and just play whatever songs, and many of my students have done the same,” Milbourne explained.  “At the end of the day, you are there to provide some happiness in someone’s day and those are the performances that are more valuable. To me, it feels better just to brighten someone’s day than to get paid. Those are the things that have truly brought me the most joy over the years”.  

It feels better just to brighten someone’s day than to get paid,”

— Erica Milbourne

In a world that Milborune believes feels broken, she also believes that music and the sharing of music is one thing that can often heal the world for a split second. 

“I feel like that kind of kindness is lost in the world and I hope we can start to see a shift back to the kindness our society once had,” Milbourne expressed. “Music might not be the magic cure for that but it feels good for me when my students and I can give back to people in that way”. 

As Milbourne looks ahead to retirement, she knows that her love for music will never fade and she will continue to play for years to come. However, taking care of herself and taking it slow are now moving up on her list of priorities. 

“I plan to keep up my playing life in retirement. In the past, I have always taken private students in the summer but I have never kept them during the school year because I am so busy, so now I hope that I can keep the students all year round,” Milbourne shared. “Musically that is my plan but other than that I am looking forward to just slowing down. My life is very busy with teaching and out-of-school things so I am looking to shift back to taking care of myself. I have taken care of a lot of people over the years so it is time to take care of myself a little better”. 

While Milbourne vows to take care of herself, she will also continue to take care of a few other things in retirement. 

“I have adopted many cats but now I started taking in only special needs cats,” Milbourne revealed. “People don’t tend to take in the special needs cats and it has really become a love of mine”. 

Milbourne has had many special needs cats over the years and she has found her experience with taking care of them to be unique and eye-opening. 

“I have had all kinds of cats. I have had cats with cancer, kidney disease, heart disease, all kinds of things. The first cat that I had adopted had actually been hit by a car and broken two of his legs. The first day I met him was his first day at the shelter after his surgery and he still needed tons of physical therapy. He was just the cutest thing and I knew people would be reluctant to take him so I of course took him in. He was the greatest cat ever,” Milbourne shared. “It is interesting because as humans something that we see as debilitating for an animal might not be debilitating for them at all. Nothing stopped him. He would run around the house, jump up on the furniture, everything a normal cat could do. That has shifted my perspective so much even in life”. 

Life is constantly changing, meaning life perspectives are also always changing. Milbourne has found that taking in cats has certainly changed her life’s perspective but her students and teaching have changed it even more. 

“I mean that is one of the great things about teaching, it has taught me to be very resilient. It has taught me to feel the fear and do it anyway. And it has taught me a lot about a life that I don’t live,” Milbourne shared. “You have students that come into your classroom and you have no idea what their life is like. It is easy to look at a student and not know anything about what’s going on outside of school.  I think I am more appreciative now of different lifestyles and stuff like that and understanding that sometimes I don’t know everything about my students. You can’t judge a book by its cover”. 

Learning and understanding her students is all part of the job for Milbourne. It has allowed her to build connections with students that will last a lifetime. 

“In retirement, I hope to keep in touch with my students. I want to hear about all the things going on in their lives,” Milbourne revealed. “I love it when students graduate and still keep in touch. It is crazy to see my students that I had years ago doing amazing things but it also feels good to know that you had a part in that person’s life and you hope that you helped to influence them”. 

Walking away is difficult, but leaving behind a legacy is even more difficult. Luckily, Milbourne’s kindness and musical passion will be the legacy her students will always remember her by. But Milbourne hopes that her students know that each of them have left a legacy in her mind and her heart. 

“To be responsible for children that are not yours is an honor. For a parent to trust another adult with the most precious thing in their life, I have never taken that lightly or for granted,” Milbourne expressed. “I don’t think we tell students enough, but students impact teachers too. We often focus so much on what we can do for the kids but sometimes the kids do a lot for us too.”

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