Rebecca Rhinehart, theater-arts director with Bexley City Schools, found herself in the spotlight, not waiting in the wings, when she was recognized as the 2017 recipient of the Bexley Education Foundation's Educator of the Year award.

Rhinehart was recognized in a surprise presentation after a performance of "Peter and the Starcatcher" on April 7 at Bexley High School.

Rhinehart said she was pleasantly surprised when she found out she had been selected as the 2017 recipient of the award. But the real reward, she said, is reporting to her "dream job" every day.

Rhinehart oversees theater classes and productions at all grade levels.

"I have the job every theater director wants," Rhinehart said. "I love that I get to work with all students of all ages. I love working with people and telling stories and building whole worlds onstage."

The Educator of the Year award is presented annually to someone whose leadership, dedication, achievements and commitment to the classroom and the community have made a difference in children's lives.

"I was shocked speechless, and I'm never speechless," Rhinehart said of the surprise April 7.

In nominating Rhinehart for the award, students described her ability to help them build confidence.

"As I worked more with Rhinehart and the theater program," wrote one former student who is now in college, "I learned how to be a leader, instead of an awkward kid hiding in the back of the group. Without Rhinehart continually pushing and prodding me to do more, I doubt that I would have become the person I am today."

"Ms. Rhinehart has students returning year after year because she makes the long and tiring rehearsal hours enjoyable," wrote another student.

Another student cited Rhinehart's work ethic: "Here is an incomplete list of the things Ms. Rhinehart does in one school year: teach three high school classes, direct five main stage productions (two high school, two middle school and one elementary school), run two drama camps, produce two one-act plays and two theatre ensemble shows, and coordinate middle and high school student attendance at five Thespian conferences. These are just some of the things that encompass her job overseeing a vast department which enriches our entire community."

"Many of her former students continue to participate in theater after graduating," wrote a Bexley High School faculty member in support of Rhinehart's nomination. "Rebecca instills a love and passion for theater in all her students, which is evidenced by the many students who pursue theater as a career, continue theater as a hobby, or simply decide to come back to the community and take a leadership role in the Bexley theater arts program."

A 2003 summa cum laude graduate of Ohio State University with bachelor's degrees in English and theater, Rhinehart received a master of education degree in integrated language arts the following year.

She taught at Columbus' West High School for two years before coming to Bexley in 2006.

Rhinehart was born in Richmond, Virginia, but during her senior year of high school, her family moved to Canal Winchester, where she still lives.

She said she developed an interest in theater at an early age.

"My mom always did theater. She got me into theater when I was young," Rhinehart said. "I loved every aspect of it. I acted and I always tried to do stage managing and props,"

One of the most rewarding aspects of her job is overseeing a program in which high school students mentor younger children in the district.

"It gives them a lot of leadership skills," she said.

On April 26, Rhinehart will receive a $1,000 cash award and a commemorative crystal apple at the Bexley Education Appreciation Banquet at Capital University.

Sponsored annually by the Bexley Education Foundation, the award is funded by the Glick Family Endowment for the foundation at the Columbus Jewish Foundation.

The selection committee for this year's Educator of the Year Award was chaired by foundation board member Drew Stark and included members of the foundation's board of governors, representatives of Capital University and the community.