Jessie Skipwith doesn’t need to pause for thought as he answers why he chose a career in education. “It’s the one thing in my life that has allowed me to chart my own course,” he says with the precision of practice. “Education enables and empowers.”

With eight years serving as the Principal and President of Bishop Machebeuf High School in Denver, he calls lifelong learning “an intentional tool to help people advance in life.” And that belief, along with his nearly 20 years in education leadership, is why he was named the Executive Director of Horizons at Colorado Academy, a non-profit summer program that offers enrichment for students from low-income families.

“This program is time tested and proven to increase student efficacy in literacy, math, and confidence,” he says. “As such, it drastically increases students’ abilities to graduate high school and gain admission to competitive colleges and universities.”

Increasing ability and lowering the achievement gap is the goal of Horizons, which serves nearly 140 students on the CA campus during the summer and throughout the school year.


“This program is time tested and proven to increase student efficacy in literacy, math, and confidence,” he says. “As such, it drastically increases students’ abilities to graduate high school and gain admission to competitive colleges and universities.”


To reach that goal, the program tackles what’s become known as the “summer slide,” which according to a recent study by the RAND Corporation, found that while elementary-aged students experience about a month’s worth of learning loss, the decline is far greater for lower-income students. The study also concluded that summer learning loss is cumulative and that, over time, contributes greatly to the “achievement gap.”

Yet for those students in the Horizons program, both local and national indicators show a gain of an average of two to three months in their reading and math skills during just the six-week program. It’s a fact that, for student volunteers like senior Matthew Johnson, makes working with the program particularly rewarding.

“It feels like I’m making a difference,” says Johnson, who has volunteered with Horizons for three years, “and that’s not something everyone can say about their summer jobs. I can see the students improving in math and in reading in just one summer.”

That’s because 100 percent of students that are identified and then paired with a reading specialist show marked improvement, a progress that is gauged by testing at the beginning of the program and then again at the end.

“They also grow through self confidence and by tapping into that modern-day grit we’re always talking about,” Skipwith says. “In swimming and other activities, the students learn that if you don’t know how to do something today, stick with it for six weeks, and you will.”

Resilience is a trait that Skipwith, who relocated his family to Denver from Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, demonstrates himself. While working as a high school counselor and as the Director of Counseling Services at Jesuit High School New Orleans, he also was a facilitator within Operation Upgrade, an academic program for economically disadvantaged middle school boys.

“What we found was that even something as little as going bowling, going to the movies, or taking a trip to the aquarium was absolutely eye opening to these kids. When kids are engaged in summer programs, we found increased success and confidence in school, which led to higher graduation rates.”

Asked how he’ll bring all that knowledge and experience to Colorado Academy and Skipwith answers with exacting execution. “I plan on first meeting with the Horizons board, communicating with my Horizons staff and maintaining the already strong relationship we have with our partner public schools,” he says. “ I would also like to continue to increase knowledge and exposure of the program both in the Colorado Academy community and in the greater Denver metropolitan area.”

Ultimately, Skipwith will continue the work of outgoing director Ingrid Moore and focus on the primary goal, which is to positively impact as many eligible students from our public school system as possible.

“It has an exponential effect when you work from the inside out,” he says. “It gives the individual, then the family, then the larger community the wherewithal to face these life challenges that we’re all facing but that some of these children in particular don’t have the resources to necessarily deal with.”

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