Rachel Reno and students

Getting Behind the Mask Has New Meaning for School Leader

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by Brianna Coffey, Student Public Relations Writer

Rachel RenoGrowing up as a military child, Cedarville University alumna Rachel Reno experienced firsthand the struggles of a student who feels out of place and finds it easy to hide. 

“I was not the A+ student; I was also not the student that was acting out behaviorally. I was the really, really easy student to not see,” Reno said. “God sent Christian teachers into my life at really pivotal times to see me, to listen to me and to build relationships with me.” 

In this way, God gave Reno a heart to reach students who were hurting, giving her a deep sense of empathy for those who long to know and be known but are struggling to build those relationships. 

Now, in her role as upper school principal at Immanuel Christian School (ICS) in Springfield, Virginia, Reno is bringing that extra measure of empathy to her students. In an age marked by COVID protocols, it’s easier than ever for students like Reno to literally hide behind a mask. 

Reno taught Eighth grade English, history and Bible for seven years at Immanuel straight out of college. After several other teaching and counseling positions at schools across Ohio, she finished her master’s degree in education at Cedarville and returned to Immanuel in December 2016 to serve as a middle school principal. Reno stepped into her current position as high school principal in July of 2019. 

ICS is a uniquely diverse K-11 school with a focus on unity and spiritual discipleship. “We have a unique school with 43% diversity in the student population,” Reno said. “It’s not unusual to stand in carpool duty and hear six different languages being spoken by parents waiting to pick up their students.” 

The second-grade classroom holds a heritage festival every year, when parents come in and share about their student’s heritage. “It’s a parade of countries,” Reno said. “We fill the gym with food, games and pictures, and it’s like stamping your passport and walking through all these different countries.” This event is a special celebration of diversity that the school experiences every day. 

Reno played a key role in developing the vision and curriculum for Immanuel’s high school, which opened last year offering education for ninth and 10th grades. Just this fall, Immanuel added an 11th-grade program. 

This year, in the wake of COVID-19, Reno and the rest of the staff have remained personally committed to the mission of the school to provide opportunities to a wide range of students and to teach them to appreciate one another and their backgrounds. 

Deciding to hold school in person was a difficult decision that Reno describes as one of the hardest the school has had to make. “The amount of work has been almost crippling,” she said. “The executive team worked almost 12-hour days all throughout the summer, meeting with health officials, our own advisory councils, writing, re-writing, putting things out, communicating and making videos.” 

With the pandemic, teachers have had to think beyond the mask to help students emotionally, spiritually and academically. “Our teachers are phenomenal and creative,” said Reno. “We have discipleship groups that meet on Mondays and Fridays, and we really try to be 6-foot distanced so they can take down their masks. We’re doing a lot of things outside, so we can have fresh air and circulation.”

Reno is very grateful for the time she had as a student at Cedarville University, where she gained confidence in herself and the abilities God had given her. She is grateful for the strong foundation she received in education as a secondary English education major with a teaching credential for grades seven through 12. 

“I look back and see God’s hand at work in my heart,” she said. “Cedarville helped me develop a heart for the kind of kids I’m serving today.” 

Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered, Baptist institution with an enrollment of 4,550 undergraduate, graduate and online students in more than 150 areas of study. Founded in 1887, Cedarville is one of the largest private universities in Ohio, recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, including its Bachelor of Arts in English Education program, strong graduation and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings and high student engagement ranking. For more information about the University, visit www.cedarville.edu.