CALABASAS, Calif. (News release) —Two Arkansas high school skilled trades teachers are among 50 teachers and teacher teams from across the country who were named today as semifinalists for the 2019 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. They and their high school skilled trades programs are in the running for a share of $1 million in total cash awards.
Chris Weeks, a construction management teacher at Bentonville High School, and Jared Wyatt, an industrial equipment maintenance instructor at Siloam Springs High School in Benton County, 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.
“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.”
Chris Weeks revived the construction program at Bentonville High School three years ago, after working for 25 years as a contractor and realizing that the local school system had no job training or pipeline for students to enter the industry. Bentonville’s Ignite Professional Studies program for high school juniors and seniors has doubled in size since Weeks’ arrival. Nine in 10 of Weeks’ students earn college credit, and all students earn an industry certification. Students pursue community service projects, including building homes with Habitat for Humanity, maintaining homes for elderly residents and working with the Wounded Warrior Project to build a deer stand for a disabled veteran.
Jared Wyatt is in his second year of teaching and brings a lifetime of experience to the classroom, having grown up on a farm with a father who worked in construction. After high school, Wyatt pursued a degree in agriculture education and became the first person in his family to graduate from college. Students in Wyatt’s industrial equipment maintenance program develop key soft skills through paid internships, visit factories to discuss preventative maintenance, and learn about safety and automation directly from industry professionals. As a young teacher, Wyatt strives to serve as a “big brother figure” to his students.
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 atharborfreighttoolsforschools.org/ and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.