Retirement after decades of dedication
By Celeste McNeil; courtesy photos
After nearly 35 years of public education, Buffalo Ridge Elementary (BRE) physical education teacher Ronda Gutierrez is trading her indoor classroom for an outdoor one.
Gutierrez has been getting students moving in the Douglas County School District (DCSD) since 1986, a fixture at Buffalo Ridge Elementary (BRE) for the past 22 years. Born in Portland, Oregon, Gutierrez has fostered a love of staying active and healthy her entire life. A desire to share her passion for fitness led Gutierrez to education. “I love kids and the energy and enthusiasm they bring to the gym each and every day.”
Gutierrez’s PE class was not the dodgeball and square dancing kind of PE that many of us remember from school. She understood that students enjoy moving, exercising and cultivating a healthy lifestyle when they feel empowered. Gutierrez built student choice and leadership into her PE lessons. Her ideas of staying active went beyond typical team sports. She fostered excitement for trying new skills and activities. “Her games were the best” said a third grade student. “They were really fun and not what you would expect.”
As an instrumental aspect of the BRE specials team (art, music and PE), Gutierrez worked with students to brainstorm, create and practice the physical aspects of each grade’s yearly class showcases. Many students learned how to use a diabolo – Chinese yo-yo, or basic circus activities like ball walking under her tutelage.
Gutierrez remains an avid supporter of the American Heart Association’s (AHA) annual Jump Rope for Heart campaign. Her final year, Gutierrez and BRE Principal Jen Murdock-Jacoway offered to be slimed by students who earned a specific level for the AHA fundraiser. During a school assembly, students were excited and entertained when the two women were covered in green glop.
More than just a PE teacher, Gutierrez supported all the BRE students, both in and out of the gym. Her constant smile and positive attitude were welcome throughout the BRE building. She was a proponent of the well-rounded student. She understood that a total education includes time and space for physical activity throughout the day. She believed that when given the opportunity to move their bodies, students’ minds functioned better as well. Even during the final few weeks of school while remote learning, Gutierrez reached out to touch the lives of BRE students. She prepared physical activities for the classes that rotated to PE each week. Additionally, she joined in individual class video calls to lead the students in brain breaks, having them get up and move. For example, she had the students do jumping jacks before resuming their class call. Students were excited to see her ever-present calming smile.
Gutierrez is modest about her influence and accomplishments. She won the DCSD Apple Award for Elementary Educator of the Year in 2015. Retirement will allow Gutierrez more time to pursue her personal interests: spending time with her daughters, golf, snow skiing and travel. “I consider BRE like my family, and I am going to miss them immensely!” she said. Looking to the future, Gutierrez is not abandoning her love of education. She’ll be on the slopes, as a ski instructor at Beaver Creek this winter.