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Four CA high school skilled trades teachers among 61 finalists for 2021 Prize for Teaching Excellence

High school skilled trades teachers and their programs are often overlooked and underfunded. As the United States faces a critical shortage of skilled trades workers, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is shining a spotlight on excellent public high school skilled trades programs with its annual Prize for Teaching Excellence.

Today, the program announced that four public high school teachers from California have been named as finalists for the prize. The teachers were chosen by an independent panel of judges from among a field of more than 700 skilled trades teachers who applied for the prize. The 61 finalists are from 30 states and specialize in trades including advanced manufacturing, welding, construction, automotive and agriculture mechanics.

The winners will be announced in October. More than $1 million in cash prizes will be shared by 18 teachers and their skilled trades programs.

“Despite the dramatic need for a new generation of workers, research has shown that most U.S. high school students do not have access to high-quality skilled trades programs. The goal of the prize is to highlight some of the most outstanding programs nationwide and to celebrate teachers who are making a big difference in the lives of students,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “Our hope is that the stories of these dedicated teachers will inspire other communities to create similar programs for their own high school students. All high school students who want to learn a skilled trade and have a talent for working with their hands should have the same opportunity.”

These four teachers are the California finalists.

Angela Arnett began teaching at Escondido High School in Escondido, California in 1998. She started as an English and dance teacher and took over the technical theatre and stagecraft program in 2012. Though she already had earned a bachelor’s degree in English education and a master’s degree in dance, Arnett pursued further education via numerous conferences and professional development programs to grow her technical theatre program. Her course attracts many students picking up tools for the first time and teaches skills that they can build on in the future, including through earning credits at Palomar College. More than half of the students on her roster receive special education services, have been reclassified or are English learners. Over the past nine years, her program has built sets, installed lighting and provided other production skills to 21 theatrical productions. Arnett was a finalist for the 2020 Prize for Teaching Excellence.

Donald Brown is entering his sixteenth year of teaching automotive technology at El Diamante High School in Visalia, California. Growing up with a fascination with mechanics and figuring out how things work, Brown spent more than 35 years in the automotive industry. He worked for General Motors and Central Valley Distributing and owned several businesses where he repaired, serviced, and restored vehicles. Brown was invited to tour the auto shop at El Diamante when it opened as a new school. The tour turned into an unexpected job offer and his teaching career began. Brown’s program is designed to function as a real-world shop where students work in teams on progressively more challenging projects and gain invaluable experience, project management, and team leadership skills. Brown is committed to constantly growing and adapting to meet the ever-changing needs and development of his students.

Benjamin Carpenter is entering his fourth year teaching welding at John F. Kennedy High School, a Title I school in Richmond, California. For the past 20 years, Carpenter has been a professional fabricator, earning degrees in metalsmithing and design along with certifications in fire inspecting and fire safety. Before teaching at Kennedy High School, he taught welding at The Crucible, an industrial arts school, for 12 years. Carpenter emphasizes the importance of collaboration and diversity in his classroom by dividing each class into groups of five students of different experience levels, backgrounds, academic expertise and personalities. These groups are responsible for the success of each of their members. He works with the local community college welding program to connect to their curriculum. Despite teaching remotely this year, Carpenter found meaningful ways to connect with his students and serve them with adaptability and compassion. He is also a certified emergency medical technician and was a finalist for the 2020 Prize for Teaching Excellence.

Nicholas Jordan is entering his eighth year of teaching construction at Montecito High School, a continuation high school in Ramona, California. Jordan started teaching after a 23-year career as a journeyman carpenter and contractor. Hailing from a family of educators, Jordan has won several state and district teaching awards. Jordan’s students earned first place in the TeamWorks competition in 2018, 2019, & 2021 at the state competitions of SkillsUSA, a national nonprofit association of trades students. Jordan teaches his students not only practical skills like framing, roofing, plumbing and electrical, but also the importance of being dependable and having a good work ethic. Students support their high school by repairing siding on portable buildings, building a snack bar for the high school swim team and expanding the weight room for the football team. They also mentor elementary school children and build houses for homeless veterans. Jordan was a finalist for both the 2018 and 2020 Prize for Teaching Excellence.

The complete list of finalists is available here.

There is rare bipartisan support for increased investment in skilled trades education in high school. More than 76 percent of Republicans, Democrats and Independents said they favor increased public funding for skilled trades education and think that offering skilled trades classes in high school should be a priority, according to polling by NORC at the University of Chicago. The poll was commissioned by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools.

Eric Smidt, the owner and founder of Harbor Freight Tools, said high school skilled trades programs provide a pathway not just to a good job, but also to a meaningful career and a good life.

“High school skilled trades teachers are heroes,” Smidt said. “Our teachers and their programs are an essential part of meeting the national challenge of educating the next generation of skilled trades workers.”

Winners join a nationwide network of outstanding trades teachers who convene throughout the year and in a three-day summer institute to share best practices and brainstorm ways to improve high school skilled trades programs.

The 2021 finalists now advance to a second round of competition, where they will be asked to respond to online expert-led learning modules designed to solicit their insights and creative ideas about teaching practices. The finalists 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 winners and, finally, name the three Grand Prize winners and 15 additional prize winners.

Grand Prize winners will each receive $100,000, with $70,000 going to their public high school skilled trades program and $30,000 to the skilled trades teacher behind the winning program. The 15 additional winners will each be awarded $50,000, with $35,000 going to their public high school program and $15,000 to the teacher. Winners whose school, district and/or state policy prohibits receipt of the individual portion of prize award were eligible to apply on behalf of their school’s skilled trades program. If they win, the entire share of the prize will be awarded to the school.

Winners will be announced in late October.

About Harbor Freight Tools for Schools
Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is a program of The Smidt Foundation, established by Harbor Freight Tools owner and founder Eric Smidt, to advance excellent skilled trades education in U.S. public high schools. 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: harborfreighttoolsforschools.org

This article was released by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools.