By GWEN OREL
Though Judy Weston died earlier this month at the age of 87, the beloved Montclairian’s legacy continues in the work of many Montclair students, and in the careers of many scientists and doctors.
Weston was involved as a philanthropist and volunteer in many organizations, including the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the National Dance Institute, Montclair Film, the Montclair Ambulance Unit and the Montclair Art Museum.
She died on Oct. 9, and is survived by her husband, Josh, four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
On Oct. 13, the Township Council acknowledged the many statements of loss from the community about Weston, “who has been such a supporter of education and so many other things here in town,” said Mayor Sean Spiller, asking for Councilwoman Robin Schlager to work on a proclamation.
“As an educator myself I want to acknowledge and thank her for the many ways she honored and supported students and teachers, staff and administrators and education as a whole,” Spiller said.
Weston’s work in education continues to make a difference.
The Weston Science Scholars, founded in 2000, offers Montclair High School students the chance to do laboratory work at Montclair State University with college faculty as mentors. More than 700 Montclair students have participated.
“My real-life experience in the lab made me feel, ‘I can really do this,’” said Marjan Alidoost, who was a Weston Science Scholar in 2008. Today, Alidoost is a doctor,.
Another program Weston sponsored was the Montclair teacher recognition program, which honored those who went above and beyond what their work required, and who were nominated by students, peers and parents. The program, which began in 1992 and lasted for 25 years, recognized more than 300 teachers.
Beth Wilensky, who facilitated the program with Wendy Sabin, shared some quotes of Weston’s from over the years, including: “We like the fact that the process comes from the roots up” and “About 10 percent of the nominations come in from students. I’m impressed that the students care enough to get involved.”
READ: OBITUARY: JUDY WESTON
The teachers received a $2,000 award, given at a “big assembly held every year, with students and peers and cheering squads of parents,” said Weston’s daughter, Hilary Joel.
Wilensky was the PTA president of Nishuane Elementary School when she first oversaw the program. She remembers that Weston would invite the PTA presidents to her home. They would read the nominations for teachers from other schools, and pick their favorites to present to Weston.
“Judy was adorable,” Wilensky said. “She would sit there with her paper and pencil and write down the schools, and then write down each of the top three choices. Some of the nominations would make you cry. Some were written by students. She was looking for those teachers that came in early, that pick up the phone and call students if somebody was having a problem, that would sit down with a student having trouble with reading or math. It was that one-on-one kind of excellence that Judy just loved.”
WESTON SCIENCE SCHOLARS
Lynn English, who teaches at Montclair High School and at Montclair State University, oversees the Weston Science Scholars with Dede Portas, who also teaches at MHS.
“Many of the things we did with the Weston program were outcomes of what [the Westons] believed in,” English said. The Westons thought that people should give back to society and to the community, and use whatever strengths they had, she said.
The program, an intensive five-week summer session, recruits students in January and February and holds field trips in the spring.
Among them were trips to the American Museum of Natural History, where Weston served on the board of trustees and as a docent for visiting student groups, and to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.
On those field trips, English said, “Judy would be on the bus, and always bring cookies for the kids, and tip the bus driver when we got back.”
As soon as school let out, the program begins: Students have an open house with scholars at MSU, then put their bids on the top four scientists they wanted to work with. Portas and English then assign the students. At the end of the five weeks, the students present their research and receive a certificate.
It’s something special for kids with a passion for science and math to be able to work with others who feel the same, English said.
“Judy and Josh believe science makes a difference in the world,” she said.
The Westons also sponsor a Weston science program for eighth-graders, with four labs a year, to give them a taste of what science is all about, she said.
Weston was involved in the Montclair robotics program, and in a new effort, Montclair Academic Dual Enrollment, a scholarship program for MHS seniors to take classes at MSU.
Some families have had several children go through the Weston Science Scholars program.
Such was the case for Susan Thomas, whose daughter, Marjan Alidoost, and three other children all went through the program and studied engineering and science in college. Alidoost was a Weston Science Scholar the summer after her sophomore year.
“A lot of girls are intimidated to go into the sciences,” Alidoost said. The supportive environment of the Weston Science Scholars inspired her to keep going. Weston, she said, “paid a lot of attention to the presentations, asking ‘How did you do this? What was the method here?’ Beforehand, I didn’t know what I wanted to do.
“Afterwards, I definitely knew I wanted to study biology.”