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Five SoCal teachers up for $1 million Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence

Five Southern California high school skilled trades teachers are among 50 teachers and teacher teams from across the country who were named as semifinalists for the 2019 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. They and their skilled trades programs are in the running for a share of $1 million in total cash awards.

Dennis Johnson, a transportation technology teacher at Fallbrook Union High School in Fallbrook; Stephen Marsh, a manufacturing and welding teacher at Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo High School in Long Beach; Brent Tuttle, a welding teacher at La Mirada High School in La Mirada; Peter Wachtel, a product innovation and architecture teacher at Adolfo Camarillo High School in Camarillo; and Kathryn “Kathy” Worley, an advanced manufacturing teacher at West Hills High School in Santee, were were chosen by an independent panel of judges from among a field of 749 skilled trades teachers who applied for the prize. The semifinalists—some competing as individuals and some as teacher teams—hail from 26 states and specialize in trades including manufacturing, welding, construction, automotive and agriculture mechanics. California boasts the most semifinalists from a single state—nine total.

“We never cease to be amazed by the talent, creativity and resourcefulness of skilled trades educators,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “This year’s semifinalists teach more than a dozen trades and have spent a collective 800 years in the classroom—teaching our students critical skills that our country needs—and we couldn’t be more excited to honor their work.”

Dennis Johnson has been an automotive technology instructor since 2002 and currently teaches at Fallbrook Union High School. He also stays active in the automotive industry, where he has worked for 30 years, to keep his program up-to-date and to help him connect his students with industry networks. Johnson developed a partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to provide real world experience for his students and has had live video conference sessions with aerospace engineers to make students aware of careers and opportunities at NASA. He has also developed agreements with automotive programs at local community colleges so his students can earn college credits, and his “Warriors Garage” curriculum recently received University of California A-G approval to apply toward a four-year college degree.

Stephen Marsh teaches engineering technology at Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo High School in Long Beach. After his service in the Marine Corps and a career in injection molding, fabrication and aerospace, Marsh discovered a love of teaching and bringing industry skills into the classroom. His students learn engineering, machining, welding, product innovation and energy and power technologies in his courses, which flow seamlessly into advanced degrees at the local community college. He connects his students to real world opportunities through visits to and apprenticeships in local industries—from union shops to aircraft carriers. His students also pursue their interest in the trades through a host of afterschool activities, where students create solar boats, electric cars and robots.

Brent Tuttle has taught welding for 18 years and is currently an instructor at La Mirada High School. Tuttle has developed a robust, four-year welding pathway of study that includes more than 1,000 hours in the welding shop and the completion of all traditional academic classes by graduation. Students in Tuttle’s welding pathway have a 98 percent graduation rate and are well-prepared to continue advanced training in college or go directly into the workforce. Tuttle’s students use their skills to complete community service projects, and this year, his students welded and sold patriotic artwork for their “Dollars for Defenders” project, directing all proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Peter Wachtel has taught product design and architecture at Adolfo Camarillo High School for three years, after a 30-year career in the toy industry. Wachtel is the former president of the Southern California Toy Association, a published author of two books on toys, and has been a toy and product designer/director at companies such as Marvel and Jakks Pacific. He helped his students start and run an online business where they designed and sold custom woodshop products for Six Flags and Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Wachtel has also taught at the college level at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Pratt Institute, Parsons School of Design and Otis College of Art and Design for more than 20 years. Wachtel created his school’s product design and innovation pathway, which has since been adopted by 40 other high schools across the country.

Kathy Worley teaches advanced manufacturing and woodworking at West Hills High School in Santee. A 30-year teaching veteran, Worley was a 2018 San Diego County Teacher of the Year, and a finalist for California Teacher of the Year. Students in her advanced manufacturing pathway learn design principles and applications, then a variety of building and fabrication techniques, including computer numerical control (CNC) manufacturing, milling, laser and additive manufacturing, welding and robotics. With deep program relationships to industry, her students make connections to employers like Taylor Guitars, LifeProof, the carpenter’s union and drone manufacturers. Her students compete in “Shark Tank”-inspired design competitions, where they have to design, manufacture and market unique products to industry and community professionals.

The full list of the 50 semifinalists is posted here.

The 2019 semifinalists now advance to a second round of competition, where they will be asked to respond to online expert-led video learning modules designed to solicit their insights and creative ideas about teaching practices. The contenders will be asked how ideas from the modules might be used to inspire students to achieve excellence in the skilled trades. Two rounds of judging, each by separate independent panels of reviewers, will narrow the field to 18 finalists and, finally, name the three first-place and 15 second-place winners. Winners will be announced on Oct. 24.

The 18 winners will split $1 million in prizes. First-place winners will each receive $100,000, with $70,000 going to their public high school skilled trades program and $30,000 to the individual skilled trades teacher or teacher team behind the winning program. Second-place winners will each be awarded $50,000, with $35,000 going to their public high school program and $15,000 to the teacher or team. Past winners have dedicated their winnings to modernizing their shops, investing in specialized tools, promoting their programs to families and purchasing equipment to prepare students for higher-level accreditations. Semifinalists whose school, district or state policy prohibits receipt of the individual portion of prize earnings were eligible to apply on behalf of their school’s skilled trades program. If they win, the entire prize will be awarded to the school.

The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence was started in 2017 by Eric Smidt, the founder of national tool retailer Harbor Freight Tools. The prize recognizes outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in U.S. public high schools and the teachers who inspire students to learn a trade that prepares them for life after graduation. Now, in the third year of the prize, more than 150 teachers have been recognized as winners or semifinalists. Winners are invited to attend an annual convening to share best practices for advancing excellence in skilled trades education.

“Skilled trades teachers help hundreds of thousands of students each year experience the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that comes from learning a trade,” Smidt said. “These teachers, their students and skilled tradespeople everywhere, too often don’t receive the respect and gratitude they deserve. Without them, construction would halt, homes, cars and appliances would fall into disrepair, and our infrastructure would crumble. We are thrilled to be able to honor and elevate the importance of their work.”

About Harbor Freight Tools for Schools
Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is a program of The Smidt Foundation, established by Harbor Freight Tools Founder Eric Smidt, to advance excellent skilled trades education in public high schools across America. With a deep respect for the dignity of these fields and for the intelligence and creativity of people who work with their hands, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools aims to drive a greater understanding of and investment in skilled trades education, believing that access to quality skilled trades education gives high school students pathways to graduation, opportunity, good jobs and a workforce our country needs. Harbor Freight Tools is a major supporter of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools program. For more information, visit us at harborfreighttoolsforschools.org/ and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

This article was released by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools.