Fueling passion for driver’s education

Judy+Weber-Jones+has+been+a+driver%E2%80%99s+ed+teacher+for+the+past+38+years+and+started+at+Gibson+City-Melvin-Sibley+High+School.+Prior+to+becoming+a+driving+instructor+Weber-Jones+was+a+star+athlete+and+head+coach+at+GCMS.+

Jacob Slabosz

Judy Weber-Jones has been a driver’s ed teacher for the past 38 years and started at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School. Prior to becoming a driving instructor Weber-Jones was a star athlete and head coach at GCMS.

By Park Mitchell, Contributing Writer

From running to softball and anything in between, Judy Weber-Jones thrived as an athlete and coach for more than 20 years. But in 2022, sports are far from her focus.

For the past 38 years, driver’s education has become Weber-Jones’ calling, and she makes sure everyone know that. So, how did a dedicated high school coach become so passionate about the number one killer of teens?

“What better occupation is there to save somebody’s life than teaching (driver’s education),” Weber-Jones said.

Weber-Jones grew up in the small town of Tuscola, Ill., about 30 minutes south of Champaign-Urbana. In high school, Weber-Jones was a star athlete and a part of the volleyball, basketball, softball and track teams. One of her major accomplishments as an athlete is holding the school record for the largest win in a basketball game, with a score of 113-21.

“I look back at that as a coach now and think that was pretty unsportsmanlike,” Weber-Jones said.

After obtaining her master’s from Eastern Illinois University, she began her coaching career and became a physical education and health teacher at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School, as well as the head coach in all the sports she played in high school. Gibson City High School was also where she would begin her driver’s education journey, but the seeds were planted well before.

Weber-Jones said that two events played a major role in her decision to pursue driver’s education. First, the story of her high school teacher and basketball coach Bill Burrus, who declined to attend a St. Louis Cardinals game in order to help out Weber-Jones’ father. “The person that took Bill Burrus’ place ended up having a car crash, and that person was killed,” Weber-Jones said.

Second, as underclassmen in high school, two seniors were killed in an overpass crash. “I just thought there was a need since it is the number one killer of teens,” Weber-Jones said.

In 2005, after two close family friends of Weber-Jones were in a car crash that killed one of them, the necessity for better driver’s education became clear to her. With the help of the parents, she started a chapter of Project Ignition in Gibson City.

Weber-Jones explained that Project Ignition is a driver’s education club focused on peer-to-peer learning.

“It’s been the best service learning teen safe driving project that I have ever witnessed or been a part of in my educational career,” Weber-Jones said.

The project was successful, receiving multiple grants of over $10,000. In 2016, Weber-Jones retired from teaching and coaching at GCMS, but her career in driver’s education was not finished.

Wayne Bekiares, an old friend and mentor of Weber-Jones, encouraged her to join him at Urbana High School for a few years. For a while, Weber-Jones was unsure about the opportunity, but when a new position opened up, she decided to go for it. After arriving at Urbana High School, Weber-Jones knew she had made the right decision.

“I felt the kids kind of needed me,” Weber-Jones said.

Weber-Jones continued Project Ignition at Urbana High School for the next six years, and today, she is enjoying retirement. She still continues to work part-time as a driving instructor at Urbana High School, and her passion for driver’s education is never waning.

Some of Weber-Jones’ and her student’s work at Urbana High School Project Ignition can be found at urbanahighschoolprojectignition.weebly.com

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