It is well known that travel broadens one’s horizons. Just ask Peyton Reno, a senior at Burnt Hills/Ballston Lake High School.
Because her father traveled as part of his job for General Electric, she spent kindergarten in Germany and seventh and eighth grades in France.
“It opened my eyes to the possibilities of life, so now I see myself as not living in one place,” Reno said.
Besides learning to speak German fluently, which she promptly forgot when she returned to this country, Reno did become fluent in French, something she still maintains. Even better, she and her family traveled all over France to sightsee.
“It was very exciting. We went to all kinds of places and met all kinds of people,” she said.
But there was an underside to her experiences in France.
“I was in an English school, but I was surrounded by a diverse population,” she said. “It made a difference in my outlook on life.”
When she returned to the United States for high school, she became known for being outspoken about what she perceived as inequality issues “living in a small white community.” Last July, a friend pointed her toward an Instagram site, “Black in 518,” where students shared posts about their experiences.
By August, she and about 15 other students from the 270-member senior class formed a committee that they called Reforming Inequities through Student Empowerment or R.I.S.E.
“That was how it was born,” Reno said. “School was still virtual then but we had a meeting with our principal and assistant principal and [later] got full support from faculty. Then we began reaching out. We want the school to be a better place and wanted to figure out how we could do this.”
Although there are few students of color at the school, Reno said that was the problem.
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“The main body of students are not being educated [about the issues] and tend to be less tolerant,” she said. “We also want to have more diverse staff.”
The committee made a video to share with minority students; hosted events to share music, poetry and speeches especially with middle school students; met with other schools and volunteered with Schenectady Street Soldiers to distribute food.
“We meet about once a week and I’m really proud of what we’ve done,” Reno said.
Despite the activism, Reno has also been involved with music as she played bassoon for two years in high school; played volleyball and lacrosse for her freshman year; became president of the World Language Honor Society, which is open to anyone who speaks another language; and for two years was a member of the Green Club, which was involved with the school’s recycling efforts. She also spent two weeks in Oviedo, Spain, as part of a student Spanish Exchange program.
But her real love is animals. She has a small farm where she cares for about 20 farm animals, including a goat, several chickens, potbellied pigs and several ducks.
“I love animals,” she said. “When I was in fifth grade I had some duck and goose eggs that I hatched and raised. It was very fulfilling and rewarding that they were alive.”
This interest led her to take a job at a Pet Supplies Plus store in Glenville about a year and a half ago. The store does not sell dogs or cats but creatures like lizards, hamsters and fish.
“I get to talk to people about their animals, so it’s a great job,” she said.
So for college, Reno is headed to the University of Vermont with a Wildlife and Fisheries Biology major. Part of the reason she chose that college is that they use experiential learning and get the students out into the field, she said. But four years from now when she’d be heading to a U.S. veterinary college, Reno said she’s looking to Europe.
“I want to study for at least a semester or a year overseas and even do vet school there,” she said. “The University of Vermont is a great place to be. But I want to see and experience the world. . .wherever the wind will take me.”