EU Alumni Perspective: Renee Wood
Name: Renee Wood
Graduation Year: 1983
Major: Mental Health
Current Position: Owner/Administrator of Portland Montessori Academy
City and State: Portland, TN
Tell us about your career and what you do now.
After graduating Evangel, I spent the first 4 years of my career working with Missouri Youth Services at a residential park camp. My job was to work with 11-17 year old girls who were in state custody as a result of law violations. Some were status offenders such as being beyond parental control, but most had more serious charges including prostitution, armed robbery, and assault. The camp had a ropes course, and we took the girls on outdoor adventures such as backpacking and canoe trips. We also provided individual, group, and family therapy. I loved this job until I had my first child. With a newborn at home, I no longer wanted to work the overnight shifts and go on trips away from my baby sometimes for a week at a time.
I transferred to Missouri Family Services where I remained for 6 years. I worked in Lawrence County where I investigated child abuse and neglect, worked with children and families in the foster care program, and worked with both preventive and protective services. Preventive Services helped “at risk” families who agreed to accept our services such as teen parents and families whose situation made parenting particularly challenging. Protective Services were court ordered and involved families where there was evidence of abuse and/or neglect.
I returned to Tennessee to be near my family after the birth of my second child. I was hired as a social worker at Cumberland Hall Psychiatric Hospital in Nashville working with 11-17 year old male sexual offenders. All of these boys had been victims of sexual abuse prior to becoming offenders. Here I worked with the psychologist to create a new treatment program. We were part of a team consisting of a psychiatrist, nurses, and counselors. I worked as a co-therapist with the psychologist providing group and family therapy. I was also responsible for coordinating discharge placement for the patients to residential step down programs and supervising parental visitation.
I was recruited to be a social worker for Hermitage Hall, one of the residential step down programs for adolescent sexual offenders. Here group therapy involved the whole treatment team of which I was a part. I also worked with the families and made home visits.
I left Hermitage Hall to join my psychologist husband (now deceased) as a co-therapist with nursing home patients doing individual and group therapy until the birth of our youngest child. I became a stay-at-home mom until my youngest was about to start kindergarten.
I actually stumbled into my current career. While enrolling my youngest into a Montessori school for kindergarten, the director offered me a job as a teacher’s aide. I wasn’t looking for a job, but I agreed to commit to the job for one year to help my child adjust to a school setting since he had never been away from me. I fell in love with the Montessori philosophy and in 1999 became a certified Montessori teacher. I worked as a Montessori teacher, and in 2002, I opened my own Christian Montessori school in the rural community of Portland, Tennessee where I lived. It took a leap of faith to start my own school, and the early years were quite challenging. I am now the owner/administrator of Portland Montessori Academy, which is about 40 minutes north of Nashville. We are licensed for preschool starting at age 3 and grades K-8. We have 46 preschool students and 26 school age students. It is wonderful watching the children blossom. As a Christian Montessori school, we have a strong focus on Creation Care, which includes caring for our human community as well. Having the students achieve their academic potential is very important to us, but even more important is helping guide them to become people who love God and who love and care for their fellow man and all of God’s Creation.
What is your favorite memory from Evangel?
I absolutely loved Dr. Billie Davis’s classes. She is my hero and inspiration. I use the movie, “A Desk for Billie” in my staff training. It tells of her experiences growing up in a migrant farm worker family and the teachers and librarians who saw more in her than a homeless migrant worker.
I also loved Christian Literature class with Dr. Twila Edwards and the Tolkien party at her house where we all brought foods like those mentioned in “The Lord of The Rings” trilogy.
But my very best memories are the times I spent sometimes studying, sometimes having fun and laughing, and sometimes crying with my dear friend Jan Parmenter. We met at Evangel and remain best friends to this day.
How did Evangel help you identify/develop your calling?
I knew I wanted to be a social worker ever since I was 16 years old. (I had no idea I would someday become a teacher) Evangel gave me the skills I needed to make that a reality. My teachers also encouraged me to become all I could be. They knew me and all their students, especially when we got into our majors with smaller class sizes. They really cared about us. Evangel helped build my confidence. Evangel provided the culture and support where we could thrive.
How did your experience at Evangel prepare you for life after graduation?
My education at Evangel was outstanding, and I have been able to apply the skills and techniques I learned throughout my career. My experience at Evangel also gave me the confidence I needed to face many challenges.
What advice would you give a current student preparing for the workforce?
Take advantage of the time you have at Evangel and make the most of it. I know it can be tough sometimes. I remember long nights studying for finals. But don’t give up. It is worth the effort. Make the most of your Christmas and summer breaks to take a breather from studies and find ways to restore and revitalize. Also, take advantage of this opportunity to make lasting friendships. True friends bring out the best in each other. When you get tired and stressed, always remember Jeremiah 29:11:
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
What would you look for if you were in a position to hire new graduates from Evangel?
I do the hiring for my school. I look for employees who have a passion for teaching and realize what a difference they can make in a student’s life. I also look for people who will work well with the rest of the team. I want all of my students to feel loved and nurtured. I also want my staff to feel like they are in a supportive environment, so I expect them to be supportive of one another, to share ideas, and to help each other out. I look for teachers who work cooperatively together. Good employees are open to learning from others, and also take initiative to share and implement their own ideas.