Our team at Horizons Greater Washington was sad to see Julia Lipton leave our organization after 14 years. Julia transitioned out of Horizons in January. As a former Maret student and Horizons Assistant Teacher (HAT), Julia has left a strong impact on Horizons. As we remember her work, our program assistant Jazmin Rodriguez sat down with Julia to ask her the following questions.
How long have you been at Horizons? What are the different positions that you have held?
I have worked with Horizons since its start at Maret in 2000. That first summer I was a HAT with Kiki Sweigart and Cindy Pomeroy. We had a class of 16 first and second graders and were all together in the Maret cottage. Over the summers I have held every position from Co-Teacher to lead teacher to Assistant Site Director. Three years ago I switched to working full time at Horizons as the Program Director.
How did you get involved with Horizons?
I started with Horizons that first summer because I had just graduated from highschool and was looking for a summer job. I knew I wanted to be a teacher and Kiki Sweigart told me that I should be a HAT over the summer. It sounded like fun and no one ever says “No” to Kiki so I jumped in and had the best summer of my life.
What was your favorite position at Horizons? Why?
I don’t know if I could pick a favorite position because each job has its special qualities and rolls in making Horizons the unique organization that it is. As a HAT you get to be closer to the students than in any other position. The students realize that you are close to their age and understand where they are coming from better than anyone else. As a teacher you get to be responsible for your kingdom/classroom. Having the freedom to plan fun lessons each day makes it exciting to come to work. As a teacher you are really on the front lines make a difference in each student’s life and over 6 weeks you can see the results of all your efforts. At the Site Director level you get the chance to know each student on campus and see the whole Horizons family. As the Program Director I got a chance to know the whole program and see the amazing impact that Horizons has on all of our students.
You have seen Horizons grow and evolve through the years, can you tell us more about that? What role did you play?
I have seen Horizons grow from a class of 16 students in the Maret Kindergarten Cottage to a program that serves 300 students on 3 different campuses. It has been so rewarding to see that growth. Initially Horizons was only going to go through 6th grade but our students wanted to keep coming back so we extended it through 8th grade. Then we felt like there was such a great need in the city that we expanded it to 2 additional sites. Going out to area schools to talk to the board and “sell Horizons” was always a fun adventure. I always welcomed the opportunity to talk about how great the Horizons program is.
It has also been excited to see Horizons National grow at the same time. When we had the Horizons conference in DC 7 years ago Horizons National was small enough to have everyone over to my tiny condo for a celebration. Now with almost 40 affiliates we barely fit in a huge conference center.
What was the most challenging experience for you during your time with Horizons?
The most challenging experience was trying to reach a student who really needed help but didn’t want to receive that help. Luckily these experience often lead to the most rewarding experiences.
What was the most rewarding experience for you?
The most rewarding experience is breaking through to a student who has been struggling. One of my favorite stories was about a little boy who in Kindergarten never wrote in his writing journal at school. The summer after Kindergarten he joined Horizons and when he came back to school in 1st grade he wrote about Horizons every day in his journal. When his teacher asked him what had caused that change, he said that he didn’t have anything to write about before and after a summer of Horizons he had so much he wanted to share in his journal.
Do you have any visions for Horizons in the future?
I am excited to see Horizons continue to grow and affect the lives of more students. St. Patrick’s and Norwood still have a few more years before they reach their full capacity. There has also been talk about finding other schools and starting new sites and looking for ways to support our students as they age out of Horizons.
What makes Horizons special?
Horizons is special because our students come back year after year. This creates a family. I love getting to see a student grow from a small Kindergarten kid into a huge 8th grader who is ready to start high school. We create such bonds with the students that they usually keep in touch all the way through high school and into college. It is fun to look at that big college kid and see pieces of the person they were in Kindergarten still there and to look at the Kindergartener and dream of what they will be like as an adult.
Tell us about your new position.
I am going to be the Director of After School Programs at the Commonweal Foundation. Commonweal has been a funder of Horizons for many years now and has a similar mission. The Commonweal After School Program serves a similar population as Horizons and had over 1000 students in their programs last year. While I am sad to be leaving Horizons I am excited for this new opportunity and the chance to stay within the same field and community.