On March 24, Harbor Freight launched its fifth annual Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, which will award cash prizes totaling over $1 million to 18 of America’s best public high school skilled trades teachers and their programs.
In 2014, Harbor Freight Tools founder and CEO Eric Smidt kicked off the Tools for Schools project by donating $1.4 million in tools and equipment to the LA Unified School District. In 2017, that project transformed into an annual recognition of teaching excellence in such categories as automotive technology, mechanical engineering, and industrial technology.
“School budgets for skilled trades education have often been cut, especially in our college-for-all mindset,” says Tae Kang, the challenge’s program manager. “We want to support those programs so that students have the tools that they need, and they’re using them in a safe environment.”
And for five years, they’ve done just that. And we at Skild have been fortunate to go along for the ride, powering their efforts from the beginning through a comprehensive program designed to surface the best and the brightest.
So, who’s participating and how are they being judged? The application process is rigorous, and skilled trades teachers must be able to communicate their programs and their backgrounds in teaching — specifically, what they do for their students in the classroom and beyond. The initial field of applicants is narrowed down to 50 top candidates, who then complete another round of questions. From there, 15 finalists are chosen and each is awarded $50,000, with 3 grand-prize winners each receiving $100,000.
But by whom? All of the participating judges are experts in career and technical education. Some are former prize winners themselves. Others work in the non-profit sector, industry, or educational administration. In other words, the judges are intentionally selected from a variety of backgrounds, which enables the applications to be evaluated and scored mindfully and from a diversity of perspectives.
Past winners have included teachers from such programs as marine systems technology, construction & architecture, and landscape operations, each of whom has dedicated significant time, expertise, and resources into their curriculum.
“When I see former students use skills learned in our class to build careers and families, earn certifications, and create dynamic futures, it heartens me,” says Brian Manley, who teaches automotive technology at the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus in Colorado.
This year’s applicants come from backgrounds every bit as interesting and essential as their predecessors, and they promise to deliver one of the best Tools for Schools challenges yet.
For more information or to apply, click here.
To nominate a deserving teacher, click here.