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Finish Strong!

Hello Fellow Educators,

I have been an automotive instructor at Freedom High School in Northeast Wisconsin for 15 years. During that time, I have gone through the wringer of building a program, raising funds, failed referendums, and of course the pandemic. Through it all, one constant for me has been that this job is worth it.

I recently received some welcome good news when I was named a winner of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. I received congratulations from my entire community. What most people don’t know, however, is that I applied for the prize five times before I won. Finally, after being a finalist in 2020, I was selected in 2021 as a $50,000 prize winner.

I remember the first year I applied. I was in my hotel room at SkillsUSA national convention typing away and thinking, “This is a lot of work!” While I didn’t win those first four years, I kept applying and saw that my program and application were growing every year. I was thankful to win some gift cards every year which I used to purchase bonus tools I never would have been able to without Harbor Freight Tools for Schools.

I filled out each round of the application with the same energy and passion that I bring to the classroom every day. I kept my focus on the need to improve my program and deliver the best educational experience possible to my students. I stuck with the process and I finished strong!

I know you are busy, wear many hats, and are being pulled in many different directions, but let me encourage you to finish strong on your application for the 2022 prize. Your students, school and community need you! The industry in your pathway needs you! Whether it be curriculum development, difficult classes, or just finishing this prize application, I encourage you to finish strong!

Here are a few of my application tips:

  • Tell stories. Your program is important; what makes it special?
  • Enjoy the process and embrace learning. I truly did learn from the learning modules and applied the techniques to my classroom practices!
  • Focus your time. I was always busy during the application season. However, I spent time alone at home when everyone else was sleeping to be able to focus and maximize my time spent on my application!

Education is all about the experiences. Students don’t always remember what they learned out of a textbook on any given day, but they do remember the experiences that YOU provided them! Keep up the good work, this job is worth it. Go to and Finish strong!


Jay Abitz

2021 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence Winner