For Laura Van Waardhuizen, the best part of teaching at Waukee High School is engaging in the discovery process with her students. “I don’t see myself teaching so much as saying, ‘Hi, I made this discovery! Don’t you want to make this discovery?’” she explained. That sense of wonder and exploration is what originally inspired her to become a teacher.
Known to her students as “VW,” Van Waardhuizen teaches three fashion-related courses at the high school.
One of her classes, Fashion Construction, is a hands-on class in which students learn to sew. While the class is definitely helpful for people who want to go into the industry, “it’s also good for engineers, because you actually get to see how something breaks down and gets put together,” said Van Waardhuizen.
Another of her classes, Fashion Analysis and Design, gives students an overview of the fashion industry. This helps them decide whether they want to go into a fashion career, and also provides exposure to universal business concepts, such as marketing and quality assurance.
Lastly, her Fiber Science class is a technically-based course in which students learn about the fibers used in garments and in non-clothing items, as well. Van Waardhuizen compares studying fibers to “the way builders study materials when building a house.”
The Fiber Science and Fashion Analysis and Design classes are dual-credit courses with Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC), meaning that students receive college credit upon completion of the classes.
In addition to teaching fashion courses, Van Waardhuizen also serves as an advisor to the student-run Waukee Fashion Club, which meets weekly at the high school.
Before becoming a teacher, Van Waardhuizen was a designer at the clothing company Lands’ End. However, she felt something was missing in her career there and decided to go into teaching so she could reclaim a sense of discovery in her work.
Despite the misconceptions some may have about the types of courses she teaches, Van Waardhuizen knows they are worthwhile because they teach real-life skills and allow students to explore. “I would heartily encourage every student to get involved in an FCS [family and consumer science] class because you’ll find new passions,” she said. The creativity of her students inspires Van Waardhuizen. “If it weren’t for my students, I don’t think I would do this.”
Outside of the classroom, Van Waardhuizen enjoys creative projects such as painting and redecorating. She and her husband love to travel, but they also love the close-knit feel of the growing Waukee community. In her own projects, as in her classroom, Van Waardhuizen embraces exploration, problem-solving, and the “adrenaline-pumping” fun of creativity.