Faculty Spotlight: Butler Counselor ‘backstage’ at work; onstage at home
To the kids at Butler Elementary School in Chalfont, Linda O’Connell is a kind-hearted school counselor who they can talk to when things are challenging, or when they just need a friend.
The social and emotional support that she and co-counselor Kathy Milotich provide each day to the approximately 850 students attending Butler are the “backstage crew” to the daily production of education, she says.
The metaphor is particularly appropriate for O’Connell, an accomplished singer who has performed the national anthem at events in and around Bucks County.
Growing up in Allentown, O’Connell had her first solo in sixth grade singing the beginning of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” By the end of the school year, she was selected to perform a complete solo of “Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx. O’Connell was actively involved in music throughout school, performing in many musicals, including a leading role in 'South Pacific!'” She performed in concert choir, chorale (select choir), and as the national anthem singer before all home matches before playing volleyball for Whitehall High School.
While at Kutztown University majoring in elementary/special education, O’Connell continued her love for music by participating in University Choir and After Hours (select jazz choir). She also had various leading roles with the Sunshine Players (a non-profit, student-run organization dedicated to bringing educational entertainment to children). After graduation, she tried her hand at pageants, advancing from the local level of Miss Pennsylvania to the state competition.
"I was even confident enough to audition for American Idol when it first came out,’’ she says. Three times in fact: she slept overnight on the streets of New York City for the second season, waited for over six hours in Philadelphia for season three, and flew to California for season four in pursuit of that "Golden Ticket." The premise of the show was based on entertainment, not necessarily talent, she says. "When you're sitting in those arenas, you are competing with thousands of people,’’ she says. “They actually would tell you in the waiting room, we're looking for the best of the best and we're looking for the worst of the worst.”
While pursuing reality show singing competitions (including Star Search when the show relaunched in 2003!), O’Connell also sang for years with her Vietnamese community in the church choir that her mother directed and was actively involved in the community -- most notably as an entertainer for the Lunar New Year. She also sang in a Vietnamese band, as a wedding singer using both languages to “belt out” various songs to entertain wedding guests.
Eventually, O’Connell transitioned into a school counseling role after graduating from Holy Family University in 2011, married, and began a family. She still sings when the opportunity presents itself – she has performed at a minor league baseball game and was asked to sing the anthem at a Pennsylvania Education Association Conference. Now residing in Doylestown, she lives down the street from Town and Country Players, a community theater group.
"I'm looking forward to seeing what's going to come out in the spring,’’ she says. "I would love to audition and try to get back into it again.’’
O’Connell 's journey is an inspiration for those who seek balance between more than one passion!
Faculty Spotlight is an ongoing series of profiles of the teachers, counselors and staff who make a difference in our schools and in our community.