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The ‘Ilana Schuster Jonsson Scholarship Fund’ has been established in her memory by her parents, Drs. Larry and Ruth Schuster. A scholarship will awarded annually to a Montville Township High School graduating senior, interested in Biology and/or education. By this means, Ilana will continue to inspire students for years to come.

Ilana Schuster JonssonIlana was twenty eight years old, in the prime of her personal life and professional career. Her life was abruptly ended on January 17th 2010, in a fatal car accident on the Garden State Parkway, when a driver crossed the divided highway and hit the car driven by her husband, in which she was the passenger. Ilana was killed instantly; her husband, Justin’s life was spared and he is recovering from the accident.

At this young age, Ilana had much to be proud of. She had a life plan and she was right on schedule. Ilana and her husband Justin met at Freshman Orientation and had been together since that day. She and her husband had just closed on a condominium, were eager to start their family and were planning to host many joyous holidays and occasions in their new home. Ilana was a devoted family member — wife, daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin and friend. Her family and friends miss her each day. She loved her family, her work, cooking, pottery, and her bunny. She was strongly committed to her Jewish faith and identity.

Ilana was bright, passionate and extremely committed to her chosen profession. She loved biology, and was born to teach. Despite her natural gift, Ilana worked diligently to develop her skills. Ilana graduated from Livingston High School, University of Rochester with a bachelor's degree in biology and Brown University with a master's degree in Biology Education.

She entered the teacher profession with many paid and volunteer positions for students with special needs, working at Livingston and Cedar Grove Public Schools’ preschool summer programs, with autistic preschool students and at the Children’s Institute in Verona. She also served as a student teacher at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island teaching Biology to students from diverse backgrounds, many living in poverty.

As a Biology Teacher at Montville Township High School, she earned the respect of faculty, administrators and students, alike. Ms. Schuster, later Mrs. Jonsson, was passionate about her subject, and recognized as a skillful teacher. Ilana served as a mentor to new teachers, and developed curriculum, at a time when she herself had less than six years of experience. She taught Honors/College Prep Biology as well as Food Science. She was also contracted to develop content for a website sponsored by the Public Broadcasting Company for use in educating students on evolution/genetics.

Most importantly, Ilana Schuster Jonsson was a highly informed teacher who cared deeply for all her students. Like most educators, she took pride in her student’s achievements — her honors students who were enthusiastic learners and the Science Olympiad Team she mentored. She placed equal, sometimes even greater effort toward encouraging students who found learning, in general or in Biology, a challenge. In this public role, her students have communicated the amazing success she achieved at such a young age.

Montville High School students have shared their respect and appreciation for Ilana’s efforts in many ways:

  • thousands of entries to a Facebook memory page, student letters to her family,
  • a moving tribute “Wear Purple for Mrs. Jonsson”
  • the hundreds of people from the Montville School Community, Board members, Administrators, colleagues and students who joined Ilana’s family and friends at her Memorial Services.
  • Donations made to the Ilana Jonsson Scholarship Fund
  • Montville Township High School Science Club selling memorial wristbands to raise money for the scholarship fund
  • Plans for ongoing fundraising to support her important place at MTHS.

Their tributes revealed much about Ilana as an educator and as a person. She’s consistently described as happy, enthusiastic about her subject, available to her students after school each day for as long as she was needed. She shared her personal educational philosophy, her vision and her concern — and her students confirm that she had already come far in meeting her career goals.

Here are student’s letters to her parents from but a few of many, illustrating Ilana’s impact:

“I am so sorry for your loss. Mrs. Jonsson meant so much to all her students and we miss her very much. She was such a good teacher and was enthusiastic about everything that she taught us. I’ll never forget her funny stories and sayings that she would tell us in order to help us learn certain things. She was always happy and treated everyone of us with kindness and respect. I remember one time when I was absent; she went out of her way to stay after school so that she could answer my questions and help me out. I still can’t believe that such a terrible thing could happen to such an amazing person. She was very intelligent and cared a lot about her students. I know that she was involved in the Science Olympiad club. My friend who is in Science Olympiad told me that she that she gave such great advice. I learned so much from her, not just about biology, but about life. Just the other day, she was telling us a story having to do with science and a student asked if we needed to know it for the test, but we did need to know it for the test of life. I thought that it was so great that her main goal was to make up better people and grow up to make a difference in the world. I felt so lucky to have a teacher live that and that memory will stay in my mind for as long as I live. Mrs. Jonsson is without a doubt a hero, not only to her students, but ot every person who has ever spoken with her. Once again, I am so sorry for your loss because I know how much she must mean to you”. —Ryan

“I am truly very sorry for your loss. Mrs. Jonsson was an amazing person, teacher, and role model. She taught me more than anyone else. I had the pleasure of seeing her almost everyday and she has a special place in my heart. I can’t even imagine what you and your family are going through and I just hope you know the impact that she had on me and many other students. Mrs. Jonsson was the closest person to me that I have every lost. At first, I didn’t believe it. I still don’t. As I sit in her classroom right now, I still think she’s with us, I can’t even imagine what the rest of the school year is going to be like without her.

Even students who didn’t have her are touched by this horrible tragedy. Only good things have been said about her. Mrs. Jonsson changed my life. I am constantly thinking about her and reminded about her everyday. In the future I hope I can be as dedicated, enthusiastic and passionate about my job and even life itself, like Mrs. Jonsson was. She was always excited and lively. On my worst days, she cheered me up. Her class was definitely my favorite and she always had us laughing. Also she is probably my most fair teacher I ever had in my life.

I remember how she talked about her trips to Israel, snails, her daily food intake, her home life and various other entertaining her students. She was always happy and for that I am glad. Her life was fulfilled and she got to travel to many parts of the world and teach what she loves. Biology has definitely been instilled into her student’s hearts. Montville Township High School will never be the same without Mrs. Jonsson. We all miss her. We loved her. I will always remember your daughter”. —Sarah

“I’m really sorry for your loss. I know you’ve probably heard that a million times but I’d like you to know I mean it with all my heart. I’m in a lot of pain from this sudden and completely unexpected even and she wasn’t even my family so I can’t begin to imagine what you’re going through. I had Mrs. Jonsson as a science teacher for Honors Biology. She always kept me awake, even when I had her period 1 at 7:30 a.m. She was so enthusiastic and energetic, just full of life. She always had a smile on and in the beginning of the year made it clear she understood we’re humans so if we had a bad day or her and are in a bad mood, she’d understand and hoped we would too and would apologize the next day and would like us to too. I really enjoyed how she taught sections in the book for homework and the next day, she’d have us take notes on her outline. I always appreciated how she always had videos of what we’re learning because I need to see and hear something to learn it. I had a lot of fun learning side noted things that always connected back to what we were learning. I’ll never forget how to make stale food taste fresh again. She explained how soap worked so well the other day, I think about the polar and non polar parts being brought together by the soap every time I pick up the soap. It sounds weird but I seriously have been doing that for about a week and a half now, maybe even longer. I know you are already aware but it’s always nice to hear, your daughter was beautiful and a truly nice person. Her outfits always made me smile. I was so jealous of how her hair always looked good, even in just a pony-tail. She had a way with connecting with me that always made me feel special. I never understood why she loved biology so much, but it amazed me nonetheless. I envied how much she enjoyed cells exploding when they weren’t needed, like the spaced between your fingers are there because of that process. I know you must be so proud of her because she gave you so many reasons to be. She will spend forever in my thoughts and in yours so she’ll never truly be gone, because in a way she’ll still always be here. She always said there was no real black and white when it comes to death, so I’m gong to believe the gray here is that she’ll never be forgotten and try to take comfort I that. Maybe that thought will help you too, even if it’s just a little. My thoughts are with you”. —Serina

“Mrs. Jonsson was a great teacher and a wonderful person and a caring person to many. I was a student in her Biology Honors period one class. I am also leery about my first day at school because I am unsure of what to expect. However, Mrs. Jonsson immediately struck me as a nice person. A smile was always upon face, and she treated each student as if they were her child.

One of the best things about her was her love of biology and science. I have encountered many teachers who kind of go through the motions but she was not like this. The amount of dedication she put into her job and the amount of love she had for science and her students was an inspiration. She was a great teacher who managed to teach the subject in a fun way. I love science as a subject, but she took it to another level. I remembered when we were learning about the polarity and abilities of weather, she said “Water is weird.” I realize that these only seem like simple words to you reading this off a paper, but the way she said it and the enthusiasm in her voice showed she truly wanted us to learn.

Ms. Jonsson was also a very caring person. She loved her husband and her family and told us stories. Also, she invited us to come in for extra help after school. I remember, during one Friday in December. I needed to finish up my project. She allowed me, along with many other students, to stay after school until we finished and she was always open to answer our questions. We all know that she probably wanted to go home and relax after a busy week, but she stayed after with us because she wanted us to do well and to learn the information.

She was also the advisor in the Science Olympiad team. Although I was not a member, I understood how dedicated she was to the team. The only day she was not in class was to help the team by going with them for the day. The fact that she cam to school every day teach us is simply incredible.

Finally she was a very calm person. She kept control of the class but managed to keep the class fun in the process.

Mrs. Jonsson was a wonderful teacher and she actually wanted us to learn. She cared about every student, no matter how difficult they were. It is a shame that the good die so young. RIP Mrs. Jonsson. We will never forget her’. —Michael

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