BY JENNIFER CROWLEY
“To live will be an awfully big adventure.” – Peter Pan
Anyone that had the fortune to know Jill Skivington Jackett can attest to the fact that the late educator, marathoner, singer, coach, daughter, wife and more embodied the notion that life was meant to be lived and loved to the fullest. Jackett was a beloved English teacher at Wheatland-Chili High School, her alma mater, for the past ten years where she also coached the cross country team and directed the annual drama production. Her untimely death on November 30th while out for a morning run has left the Wheatland/Scottsville community in shock, grappling to understand the loss of someone with such unrelenting joie de vivre.
The last Wheatland-Chili musical production that Jackett, known to many students as Miss Skiv, directed was the spring 2017 musical, Peter Pan. Maddie Hogue, then a senior, played the lead role of Peter in the performance and credits Jackett for inspiring the cast to give their all to their director’s ambitious, inspired vision. In fact, the first time Peter Pan ‘flew’ across the stage, the result of a hidden harness and wires, the entire audience gasped in both shock and delight.
“Miss Skiv taught her students how to fly, both literally and figuratively,” according to Hogue. “When it came to the production she said, ‘If we are going to do this, we are going to do this right.’ That’s just how she was, she put herself fully into everything she did and also taught this lesson to her students, her runners and her actors. From her we all learned to not be afraid of failure but to embrace the challenges and the learning opportunities that coincide with the process of success.”
Hogue credits Jackett’s passion for the dramatic arts as the catalyst for why a program that once had only minor student interest evolved into one of the most popular student activities in recent years. “She encouraged everyone to audition, even kids who had never been on stage before, and they loved it. She was the reason that Wheatland-Chili consistently put on sold out shows, the reason that everyone waits all year to go see the musical, and the reason so many of us would sit anxiously in the choir room waiting for auditions or the cast list or rehearsals or opening night.”
Jackett grew up in Scottsville, the daughter of Michael and Lynne Skivington. After graduating from Wheatland-Chili in 1997, she pursued a degree in vocal performance from West Virginia University and then went on to earn a master’s degree in English education at St. John Fisher College. Teaching was only one of her passions in life – the fiercely competitive Jackett also made a name for herself in local running circles. She won the Rochester Marathon in both 2007 and 2008; only weeks ago she completed the New York City Marathon, finishing in just over three hours. Her athletic skills and big personality made her a natural coach for Wheatland’s cross-country team. Her mentoring of Alex Hogue (older brother of Maddie) helped the gifted runner reach the cross country state championships all four years of his high school career, placing second in Class D his senior year.
Jackett’s influence over Wheatland-Chili students on the stage and on the field is only part of her legacy as an educator. As an English teacher, she touched hundreds of young minds exploring famous works of literature as they sought to internalize meaning to their own lives. According to former student Abbie Berl, “Being from Scottsville, Skiv taught us all that a small girl with a big heart and even bigger dreams could make it out there in this crazy world. I will never forget when we would sit in AP Literature class and start to discuss the theme, plot and characters of whatever book we were working on, and the discussion would inevitably lead to our plans for college or our views on what was happening around us. Through discussing Poisonwood Bible or Brave New World we learned about how to be accepting of others and how to see the world through more than our small town lens.” Adding to these sentiments was older sister Samantha Berl, now an education major at SUNY Geneseo, “Miss Skiv was a teacher that always made learning interactive, fun and authentic. She was able to relate to her students in a way that many teachers are unable to do. She always encouraged us to try new things. To me it was obvious that Miss Skiv truly believed in her students and their success.”
Part of what helped Jackett connect with so many students was an infectious personality, including her signature sarcasm. Samantha Berl continued, “When she walked into the room, you knew it. She had a zest for life that was contagious. Her sarcastic remarks were classic Miss Skiv. As I reflect on my time spent with her, I find myself thinking of her sitting in class wearing a pink snuggy, saying something completely sarcastic, and it brings a huge smile to my face.” Berl also shared that her experience as a student of Jackett’s is a large part of the reason she chose to major in education. “Miss Skiv was a role model, a friend and an inspiration to each and every one of her students. I hope to take many of the qualities that I have learned from her and incorporate them into my future classroom.”
Jackett married her husband Shawn, also a teacher, in 2014. In addition to her spouse and parents, she also left behind her faithful dogs, Darla and Duncan, brother and sister-in-law Steven and Ashley, and numerous aunts, uncles and friends.
As for the indelible impact she left on so many, Maddie Hogue summed it up quite simply. “Miss Skiv taught us how to be fighters, that winning or talent wasn’t just going to be handed to us, that we had to work for it, and boy, did she make us work for it. But we saw all her hard work and how it made her into the excellent human being she was – this is why she became an idol and role model to so many. If one day I turn out to be half the woman she was, I will be lucky.”
Anyone wishing to honor Jill Jackett’s memory is encouraged to donate to the Wheatland-Chili Drama Club, 940 North Road, Scottsville, NY 14546 or the Verona Street Animal Hospital, 184 Verona Street, Rochester, NY 14608.