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Teachers Share How They Plan to Spend Prize Winnings

Harbor Freight Tools for Schools announced the 18 winners of its $1 million Prize for Teaching Excellence on October 21. Three grand prize winners and their schools will each receive $100,000, and 15 additional winners and their schools will each receive $50,000.

At surprise ceremonies at schools and in media coverage, the winning teachers have shared plans to spend prize money on tools, technology and projects that will enrich their programs and keep students current on the skilled trades. An automotive teacher in Virginia wants to purchase an electric car for his students to learn on. A construction teacher in California envisions a state-of-the-art workshop at his school. An Alabama teacher plans to take his students to Honduras to craft and fit prosthetic legs for amputees.


Automotive teacher Derek Wray, a grand prize winner from Salem, Virginia, said he wants to use some of his school’s prize money to buy a Tesla, to teach students more about electric cars.

“The biggest thing is what we can do with it,” Wray told WDBJ7, “and make the right decisions to help these guys go even further than we could before. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Brian Copes, a Chickasaw, Alabama, construction teacher, said he and students will use the prize money to continue to create prosthetics for people in Honduras who have had limbs amputated.

“Some of the things that the students are working on is making prosthetic legs. The students actually go with me and other adults into Latin America and actually fit amputees with the prosthetics they made,” Copes said. “The kids are going to give this to a community in Honduras that has never had electricity.” The money will also be invested in a solar-powered computer lab.

Jay Abitz, an automotive teacher from Freedom, Wisconsin, already has a shopping list.

From the Post Crescent:

Abitz said “he’s going to start shopping right away for a new scanner to run diagnostics and evaluate check engine lights. A local business donated its old scanners to the school, but Abitz said it would be helpful to have a new one because older ones don’t work with all the newer car models.

The scanner could cost between $2,000 and $4,000, so Abitz is going to use another portion of the money to replace the tire changer and wheel balancer. Students currently work with an “antiquated” one that is from 1996 and doesn’t work properly, he said.

Each quarter, about one hundred students come through the automotive and collision repair program at Freedom, so these new items will benefit hundreds, if not thousands of students in years to come. Abitz said some of the new equipment he plans to purchase could last decades.’’

Brian Welch, an agriculture mechanics teacher in Madisonville, Kentucky, said the money will make a huge difference in terms of the tools available for students.

“Just the other day they had to share one circular saw among 25 kids, so now we will have the ability to do a lot more,” said Welch. “Now that we have the initial burden of finances away, I am super excited for what we can do and just get what we need to make those projects happen.”

Nick Jordan, a construction teacher from Ramona, California, said he will use the money to build a state-of-the-art construction shop on campus.

During the awards ceremony, Kathryn Worley, a teacher at West Hills High School in Santee, congratulated Jordan on his win. Worley was one of three grand prize winners of the Prize for Teaching Excellence in 2020.

Worley said the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence award was created as a way to spotlight and honor outstanding high school skilled trades teachers and their programs across the United States.

“Our country is looking to make major investments in infrastructure while at the same time facing a major shortage of skilled trades workers,” she told the crowd. “It is clear that high school skilled trades teachers will be front and center in this unique opportunity to train the next generation of skilled trades professionals.”