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2021 Prize Winner

Benjamin Carpenter


John F. Kennedy High School, CA

“I believe that we have responsibilities to younger generations, particularly those who are underserved. It is a happy coincidence that my skill set is currently in demand, and I can’t think of a better way to contribute to the success of future generations than giving young people knowledge and skills that will improve their lives and communities.”

Benjamin Carpenter is in his fourth year teaching welding at John F. Kennedy High School, a Title I school in Richmond, California. His goal is to put the second half of his career in service of something greater than himself.

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. He is also a certified emergency medical technician. He was inspired to teach by Tim McCreight, his college mentor, who set himself apart by infusing historical perspective into projects and challenging students creatively, intellectually, and ethically. Before teaching at Kennedy High School, he taught welding at The Crucible, an industrial arts school, for 12 years.

While the welding program at Kennedy High School is relatively new, Carpenter has made great strides in developing the program to grow in scale and scope. He has worked closely with his Career Technical Education (CTE) supervisor to ensure that the curriculum matches the University of California’s A-G certification guidelines, common core standards for CTE, and the American Welding Society’s SENSE program, where students earn a certification recognized anywhere. Carpenter has worked with professors at the local community college welding program to ensure that they are teaching the same content and is working on establishing a dual immersion program. He has also formed partnerships with several notable organizations such as Albany Steel and Chevron.

Kennedy High School is a Title I school with more than 85 percent of students living below the poverty line. Many students experience food and housing insecurity on a daily basis. Due to stressors and challenges that take away focus from the classroom, students often enter Carpenter’s classroom with varying levels of classroom knowledge and skills. Carpenter remedies this by grouping students together for scaffolding projects where each project is based on something missing from students’ collective knowledge and their skill sets complement each other.

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, language proficiencies, and personalities. These “squads” are responsible for the success of each of their members. He instills an environment of collaboration and friendly competition. Students learn to rely on each other and this model has been successful in building students’ confidence, connectedness and academic improvement.

Reflecting upon the first few months of distance learning, Carpenter stated in his prizewinning application that this was “undoubtedly the weirdest and most problem-laden school year in recent history.” Despite teaching remotely this year, Carpenter found meaningful ways to engage with his students and serve them with adaptability and compassion by focusing on connectedness and discussing ways of living socially, emotionally, and physically healthy lives in a welding classroom and beyond.

Carpenter was a finalist for the 2020 Prize for Teaching Excellence.

“We are now in uncharted territory in this post-distance learning environment and it’s more important than ever to have the flexibility to adapt classroom practices to meet new and evolving needs. Giving students a seat at the table when it comes to shaping their education seems like a good place to start.”