Applications are now open for the 2022 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, which will award cash prizes totaling $1.25 million to 20 of the best U.S. public high school skilled trades teachers and their programs. Starting today, teachers can apply through May 20, 2022.
The mission of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is to increase understanding, support, and investment in skilled trades education in U.S. public high schools.
“The United States is currently facing down an urgent nationwide shortage of skilled trades workers. Public high school skilled trades teachers and their students will be a critical part of the solution to this urgent problem. The prize honors and rewards these outstanding teachers and their programs,” Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, said. “In the six years since the prize was created, we have honored 88 prize-winning teachers from around the country. We continue to collaborate with them throughout the year to help advance this critical field of education.”
The best skilled trades programs embody what great hands-on teaching and learning should look like in any classroom. Excellent skilled trades teachers use project-based learning, teach skills like leadership and collaboration, and help students apply academics to the real world.
The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence was started in 2017 by Harbor Freight Tools owner and founder Eric Smidt. The prize recognizes outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in U.S. public high schools and the valuable work of teachers who inspire students to learn a trade that prepares them for life after graduation.
“Our country is making a massive investment in infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and broadband. In order to make those investments, we must rapidly expand our ability to train the next generation of skilled trades workers,’’ Smidt said. “This prize is first and foremost a way to celebrate skilled trades education and thank our outstanding high school skilled trades teachers who don’t receive the recognition and respect they deserve. We are working to shine a spotlight on their excellent work so it can be celebrated and replicated at other schools.’’
A recent independent evaluation of the prize found it has a dramatic impact on the winning teachers and their programs. Most said the prize contributed to enrollment increases in their classes, an increase in local businesses reaching out to them to collaborate, and an increase in donations to their programs. They also said winning the prize helped them strengthen relationships with community colleges. Most significantly, winning teachers are seeking new leadership opportunities and now see themselves as advocates for excellent high school skilled trades education.
This year the number of grand prize winners jumps from three to five, increasing the overall number of prize winners from 18 to 20. The five grand prize winners will receive $100,000 each, with $30,000 going to the teacher and $70,000 going to their program. Fifteen additional prize winners will each win $50,000, with $15,000 going to the teacher and $35,000 going to their program.
Past winners of the prize are teachers who have led their students to rebuild homes destroyed by hurricanes, manufacture parts for major aerospace companies, and run live automotive repair shops on their high school campuses.
About the Prize
- Harbor Freight Tools for Schools has received more than 3,300 applications for the prize since 2017.
- The benefits of the prize have had an impact on more than 100,000 students in skilled trades programs nationwide.
- $4.7 million in cash awards have been given to 88 winning teachers and their skilled trades programs.
- Winning teachers are invited to an annual convening called Let’s Build It, a three-day event hosted by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools where teachers share best practices and pilot innovate ideas.
- Teachers whose school, district, and/or state policy prohibits receipt of the individual portion of prize earnings are eligible to apply on behalf of their school’s skilled trades program.
- The application process and prize are designed to give teachers access to ideas and practices through a network of likeminded exceptional educators and leaders.
How Did 2021 Winners Spend the Money?
Below are examples of how some of the 2021 winners spent the prize money.
- Automotive teacher Derek Wray, a grand prize winner from Salem, Virginia, said he wants to use some of his school’s prize money to buy a Tesla, to teach students more about electric cars.
“The biggest thing is what we can do with it,” Wray told WDBJ7, “and make the right decisions to help these guys go even further than we could before. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
- Jay Abitz, an automotive teacher from Freedom, Wisconsin, said “he’s going to start shopping right away for a new scanner to run diagnostics and evaluate check engine lights. A local business donated its old scanners to the school, but Abitz said it would be helpful to have a new one because older ones don’t work with all the newer car models. The scanner could cost between $2,000 and $4,000, so Abitz is going to use another portion of the money to replace the tire changer and wheel balancer. Students currently work with an “antiquated” one that is from 1996 and doesn’t work properly, he said.
Each quarter, about one hundred students come through the automotive and collision repair program at Freedom, so these new items will benefit hundreds, if not thousands, of students in years to come. Abitz said some of the new equipment he plans to purchase could last decades.’
- Brian Welch, an agriculture mechanics teacher in Madisonville, Kentucky, said the money will make a huge difference in terms of the tools available for students.
“Just the other day they had to share one circular saw among 25 kids, so now we will have the ability to do a lot more,” said Welch. “Now that we have the initial burden of finances away, I am super excited for what we can do and just get what we need to make those projects happen.”
- Nick Jordan, a construction teacher from Ramona, California, said he will use the money to build a state-of-the-art construction shop on campus.