College & Workforce Readiness

New Prize Offers $500,000 to Teachers, Programs, in Skilled Trades

By Catherine Gewertz — June 30, 2017 2 min read
Keaton Turner, a junior at Warren County High School, welds a during an advanced manufacturing class in McMinnville.
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UPDATED A new prize worth more than $500,000 has been created to reward 10 programs—and their teachers—for excellent instruction in the skilled trades, such as plumbing, carpentry, auto repair and electrical work.

The competition was announced recently by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools in California. Online applications became available on June 19 and are due July 24. Winners will be announced in October.

Ten winners, all in U.S. public high schools, will receive a total of $510,000 in the prize’s inaugural round. Some of the money in the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence will go to outstanding programs, and some will go to teachers in those programs.

Here’s how the contest works: Three first-place winners will each get $100,000. Of that money, $70,000 will go to the program and $30,000 to its teachers. Seven second-place winners will each get $30,000, with $20,000 going to the program and $10,000 to its teachers.

The money earmarked for the programs is intended to stay with the program, “not to disappear somehow into the district budget,” said Robin Kramer, the executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, a charitable project of the foundation set up by the company’s founder and CEO, Eric Smidt.

The prize program defines an excellent program as one that’s “led by a teacher who clearly loves the subject matter and is both highly knowledgeable and skilled; whose curriculum is matched to a relevant career pathway and future work choices; is designed to flow seamlessly into next-step options, whether to employment or college; encourages exploration and experimentation among students in a safe environment; and connects students to new relationships and worlds outside the classroom.”

Ten finalists will be chosen on Oct. 9, and the three first-place winners will be announced on Oct. 23.

Applicants for the prize will be able to participate in a series of online learning modules that highlight successful programs. One module profiles a program in Loveland, Colorado that found great success by combining geometry and construction, Kramer said. The company hopes to complete 50 learning modules, and will make them available for free viewing on its website as they are completed, Kramer said.

On the site Harbor Freight Tools for Schools set up for the prize, teachers and programs can apply, but others can also nominate teachers or programs for the prize.

Harbor Freight Tools, a 40-year-old tool and equipment retailer, has been featuring accomplished teachers in the skilled trades on its website each month. Its founder established the prize to support programs and teachers who often fly below the public radar.

“Skilled trades teachers in our public high schools are unsung heroes,” Smidt, the company’s co-founder, and CEO, said in a statement. “We want to give them the recognition they deserve for the deeply needed instruction they give to students with the goal of higher graduation rates and a path to high demand, well-paying careers in the skilled trades.”

The Association for Career and Technical Education, which worked with Harbor Freight Tools to create the prize, also recognizes outstanding instruction in CTE. Its Excellence Awards go to K-12 teachers, administrators, postsecondary teachers, and others. Some of those awards include cash prizes, according to deputy executive director Steve DeWitt.

Other awards for teaching in the skilled trades come from the Associated Builders and Contractors, and from CareerSafe.

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.