“My philosophy or goal for all of my classes is to put as many experiences in front of my students as possible. I love when their eyes get wide, or they get a little nervous when they see or try something for the first time. I love that hands-on learning is ingrained in almost everything that we do. I love the ah ha moments when my students realize what they are doing or how a machine works. I love building confidence in kids to use things that are sometimes scary at first. I love building relationships with my students and watching them grow and then go out into the world and become successful adults in whatever they decide to do because of the experiences in my class.”
Andrew Vrieze teaches carpentry at Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument, Colorado and describes himself as a “man of many trades and a master of none.” Growing up, he would spend time in the cabinet shop with his father and grandfather, framing houses with his uncle, doing concrete flat work with church friends, and gaining invaluable skills from these experiences. After taking trades classes in middle and high school, he earned a degree in teaching from the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, Minnesota and then earned his masters degree in Administration and Leadership from the University of Phoenix in 2005. In 2017, he also earned a certification in CTE STEM in 2017 and a CTE construction and architecture certification in 2020.
Vrieze operated his own landscaping business for 11 years, but eventually transitioned to a teaching career because he saw a need for qualified skilled trades workers. His mission was to share his passion for hands-on work and his at home projects, some made out of locally reclaimed wood, with the next generation. When Vrieze’s program began, it was entirely funded by the local community through donations and partnerships. Since 2017, enrollment in his classes has grown from 30 students to 200 students. In 2022-2023, his students remodeled a portable classroom at the school and installed a new luxury vinyl plank flooring throughout the building.
Vrieze structures his classes like businesses, where students work collaboratively with each other and with customers. Projects include kid’s play houses, a mini-golf course operated by students, a life-sized metal man sculpture and even a full-sized chopper-style motorcycle. The proceeds from these endeavors are used to fund scholarships for students entering the trades.
Vrieze’s construction students have built over 100 greenhouses for customers in their community through their Colorado Greenhouse project, which has been featured in the local newspaper and Colorado Springs Fox 21 News. Due to a waitlist of over 100 people who requested greenhouses, Vrieze started a summer internship program where students came back for part of their summer to help build more of the greenhouses.
Vrieze also incorporates local industry into his class and has partnered with the local home builders associations, contractors associations, and the Careers in Construction Colorado (CICC) organization. These industry connections help earn the program funds and opportunities for students to advance their careers through internships, job shadows, job fairs and more. These job fairs provide students with interview and job exploration opportunities that range from being a welder for the Denver International Airport or a construction worker at the Air Force Academy.
Vrieze always looks to improve his teaching, demonstrating an open-mindedness and forward-thinking by taking classes at the local woodcraft store, reading blogs to learn new techniques and projects for his students, and inviting local business owners to his class so that his students learn the latest trends. Vrieze is always available to his students and makes it a point to greet students before they enter his class, in the hallway or wherever else their paths may cross.
“I think the government, both state and local, should make sure that skilled trades classes are offered and funded in every high school across the nation. There should be as much emphasis put on these classes as there is for core classes. Every student should have a chance to learn the trades. Not all students are cut out for regular school or college, and the classes I teach help these individuals feel connected, have a voice in the school, and strength to help them in the future.”