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Hats Off to Skilled Trades Educators in the Midwest

In October, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools team members Bob Kilmer and Scott Springer spent five days on the road traveling in Wisconsin and Illinois. The purpose of the road trip was to visit six winners of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence at their schools. “The school visits were a great opportunity for the teachers to show off their programs and share the impact that the prize has had on their schools,” Scott said.

Bob and Scott visited the following teachers:

Jim VanBladel, John Hersey High School, Arlington Heights, IL, 2021 prizewinner

Prizewinner Jim VanBladel and Scott Springer

Jim VanBaldel’s automotive class is one of the many career pathways offered at John Hersey, including welding, architecture construction, engineering, fabrication/manufacturing, and woodworking. The program spaces were specifically designed with teamwork in mind, which has helped create a highly collaborative culture amongst teachers and students.

Stephen Glasder, Harvard High School, Harvard, IL, 2019 prizewinner

Prizewinner Stephen Glasder and Bob Kilmer


With over 40 years of teaching experience, Glasder leads a traditional shop, offering courses in welding and machining. Bob and Scott had the pleasure of observing one of Glasder’s classes during their visit. “You can tell Stephen has built a strong, trusting culture among his students. They were all very focused and enthused about their work,” Scott said.

Staci Sievert, Seymour High School, Seymour, WI, 2021 prizewinner

Bob and Scott’s first stop in Wisconsin was to visit Staci Sievert. Sievert’s industrial technology shop has recently been remodeled and expanded. Sievert and her class are excited to move into the updated facility in the new year. Tom Mueller, the principal at Seymour, was thrilled about the growth of the CTE programs and the referendum that made the building expansion possible. In total, the remodel almost doubles the space for all programs. “Five years ago, we had two CTE teachers,” Mueller said. “Now we have 4 and enrollment is growing each year.”

Jay Abitz, Freedom High School, Freedom WI, 2021 prizewinner  

Prizewinner Jay Abitz and Scott Springer

Jay Abitz’s shop hosts the school’s CAD, welding, construction and automotive programs. Abitz creates projects for his students that benefit the local community. One of his trademark projects provides donated and fixed up cars for veterans. “Jay really goes above and beyond as a teacher. Not only does he have strong relationships with his students, but in addition to his normal classes, he is covering welding and CAD classes while the school searches for new instructors,” Scott said. “These additional classes take place at the same time and in the same space as his auto classes, so it is imperative for his automotive students to have the self-direction and passion to get going on their own projects, while Jay introduces content for the other classes.”

Dan Van Boxtel, Kaukauna High School, Kaukana, WI, 2022 prizewinner

Bird’s eye view of Dan Van Boxtel’s automotive shop

Bob and Scott sat in on Van Boxtel’s Intro to Tech class during their visit, where they observed students testing catapults. “The last five to ten minutes of the class ran like a well-oiled machine, with kids cleaning up the shop space and then heading straight to the classroom for a two-minute wrap up of the day and prep for tomorrow’s lesson,” Bob said. Van Boxtel also leads the school’s automotive program, which offers dual credit opportunities with a local college. Out of the school’s 300 seniors who graduated last year, Van Boxtel reported that 89 went into tech ed programs.

Ed Hughes, Sheboygan Falls High Schools, Sheboygan Falls WI, 2017 prizewinner

Bob and Scott finished up their tour with a visit to see Ed Hughes, who combines math and CTE in his classes. Students can obtain a Geometry credit by taking a class in Hughes’ industrial technology program. “Everyone at Sheboygan Falls knows Mr. Hughes,” Bob said. “As we toured the school Ed interacted with many teachers and students who were not even in his program.”