Originally published Oct. 30 by The Courier.
By Melody Parker
Tara Raymond is a mover and shaker.
The Orange Elementary School physical education teacher, 39, strives to set an example for students and staff by emphasizing movement and physical fitness, as well as shaking up ideas about eating right and feeling positive.
“I love to be active and involved. I love having that connection with kids. I really love helping make bodies strong and healthy through all aspects of movement and to create healthy habits that can stay with them throughout their lives,” said Raymond.
She was “shocked” to learn that she had been named to The Courier’s prestigious “20 Under 40” list.
“I never thought I’d be considered for something like this. I feel very honored.”
Raymond led the way to Orange School to being the first school in Waterloo to earn the Blue Zone designation. The Blue Zones Project, based on principles laid out in a book by Dan Buettner, was created to encourage people in overall wellness, including schoolchildren. Policies include having a tobacco-free campus, limited access to vending machines during the school day, providing healthy food choices in the school cafeteria and integrating physical activity into daily lesson plans.
“Moving every day, being active, helps with overall health, both physical and mental. If you can do that as a family, that’s a good thing, too.” Raymond explained. She leads the school’s wellness committee and organized Orange’s annual Family Wellness Night.
Raymond, who earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, taught middle school in Mason City before transferring “to the littles,” as she calls her elementary school students.
She is a proponent and leader in the school’s Leader in Me program, based on the book, “The Leader inMe: How Schools Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time,” by Stephen Covey.
Through the program, Raymond’s goal is to create resilient children who know how to set goals and have the life skills to succeed and contribute and teach them to take responsibility for their learning and behavior. The program utilizes Covey’s 7 Habits, including having a plan, putting work first, then play and listening before speaking.
“Leader in Me teaches kids that no matter what your age, you can be a leader. You can shine,” she said. Raymond participated with other teachers and staff members in helping Orange become the first Lighthouse School in Iowa, awarded by Covey for attaining a well-rounded leadership model and serving as a model of leadership and mentors to other schools. She also offers guidance to other staff members in creating individual plans to help students who struggle in the learning environment, said Victoria Holler in her letter nominating Raymond for the 20 Under 40 award.
“Tara works hard, sacrifices much and is a very important part of Orange Elementary School, Waterloo Community Schools and the surrounding community,” Holler wrote.
In her free time, Raymond is passionate about volleyball and works as an independent representative for ZYIA activewear and has returned to school to earn her graduate degree from Morningside College in Sioux City.
“I want to set an example for kids to see that education doesn’t stop after a certain grade level. You never stop learning,” Raymond said. “My advice is follow where your passion leads. Even the hard days are easier if you’re doing what you care about and you’re making a difference in the lives of others.”