Laura Calvert, family consumer science teacher at Waukee High School, isn’t one to boast about her accomplishments, especially being named the Iowa Restaurant Association’s 2013 ProStart Educator of Excellence.
"I’m a very modest, humble person so I didn’t make a big deal of it," Calvert said. "But, I’ve never been recognized on this level before. It’s such a huge honor."
Calvert was notified in March of the achievement and in May attended the national event in Chicago. At the event she was recognized for her hard work and was able to prepare a gourmet lunches with chefs from Le Cordon Bleu. "It was great to see award recipients who ranged from well-established chefs to teachers similar to me," she said. Calvert has been teaching ProStart classes—a two-year, industry-driven curriculum that was created by the National Restaurant Association to cater to high school students—for three years along with general courses at Waukee High School for eight years.
Students who are interest in the ProStart program are required to complete Culinary 1 and Culinary 2 courses, obtain a specific GPA and maintain a good attendance record.
"It’s a fast-paced class for students wanting to go into the profession," Calvert said. "It’s not just another home cooking course."
The program is certificate-based where students complete two years of the program, take two standardized tests and complete 400 hours with an internship. Those students then receive a certificate of achievement and are able to go to any culinary school that is recognized by the Iowa Restaurant Association as well as receive nine college credits.
Currently, Calvert has 24 students in her two ProStart classes and 12 students in her ProStart 2 class where students compete at the college level.
"Within 60 minutes students have to make an appetizer, entrée dish with a meat, grain and vegetable and a dessert dish," she said. "They have to do that only on two butane burners so no ovens. It takes a lot of practice of getting the timing down.
"It’s fun for me to watch, but also a little stressful because I want to make sure they are doing everything I taught them."
Calvert says one thing she hopes her students take away is a willingness to learn and try new concepts.
"I really want my students to know that regardless what they do in life that they will always be learning," she said. "Try new things; don’t ever settle. Whether it’s food, trying a new restaurant or technique, do something different."
In her classroom, she emphasizes that concept by preparing kid-friendly dishes that still push the culinary boundaries.
"I do get picky eaters, which is hard because I want them to succeed and to become a good chef," she said. "Every chef tastes their food so they need to have that pallet. Unfortunately, not every kid has that pallet I would like to see, but it’s good to see them try."
Calvert, who grew up as a 4th generation teacher, said seeing her students succeed is one of the most important aspects about her job.
"I love every day that I’m teaching because it’s something new," she said. "It’s exciting knowing I can impact kids sooner rather than later."
Without the ProStart program at Waukee, Calvert said many of the students wouldn’t obtain the necessary skills to become better chefs and prepare them for college-level courses. "I think every school should have a ProStart program," Calvert said. "It’s a huge undertaking so we are fortunate to have this room (at Waukee). Schools also need enough kids who are interested, but the community and administration recognize its importance. "We’ve been really lucky to have this at Waukee."