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The Best Time of the Year

At the end of October, we will celebrate 18 new winners of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. When we launched Harbor Freight Tools for Schools five years ago, our small team met with a group of advisors to wrestle with the question – how do we shine a spotlight on outstanding skilled trades teaching and learning across the United States?

Thankfully, one of those wise advisors was Rick Wartzman, who at the time served as the Executive Director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University, where they created The Drucker Prize that honored nonprofit innovation for 28 years. Six months later, we built upon Drucker’s model and launched the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Excellence.

The prize consists of a rigorous application that encourages trades teachers to genuinely reflect upon their craft including why they started teaching and how they’ve designed their programs to connect student’s hands-on learning in the classroom with the outside world.  Over the past five years, we’ve been blown away by the thousands of skilled trades teachers that have carved out time from their busy schedules, including the last 18 months during the pandemic, to dedicate hours to complete our prize applications and share their stories.

While our original intent was to honor these amazing teachers and get the world to recognize the potential of excellent trades education, we’ve been blown away by one unexpected outcome – the power of the growing network of prizewinning teachers.

The prize is not a one-and-done grant or event. Our prizewinning teachers come together every summer for a convening we call “Let’s Build It” to exchange ideas and dream about what is possible. We’ve made small pilot project grants to help turn these dreams into reality. This summer, prizewinner Troy Reichert launched a summer camp where students used their skills to restore a historic YMCA building in his hometown of Sunrise, Wyoming and guess who attended the camp? Students from another prizewinning teacher’s school in Pennsylvania!

Bob Kilmer, a prizewinning teacher from our first year in 2017 (and now a consultant with our team), was awarded a pilot project grant to work with a student to retrofit a rideable, electric toy car for a three-year-old boy who has significant mobility challenges. Bob and his student spent 75 hours working on this project together during the pandemic which resulted in this truly inspirational story that is being replicated in trades classrooms across the country.

Our team at Harbor Freight Tools for Schools learns and is inspired by skilled trades teachers every day. So as summer gently rolls into autumn in big and small towns across the country, we enter our favorite time of year. We can’t wait to celebrate 18 new skilled trades teachers and their program at the end of October and welcome them into the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools family. Keep an eye out next month to learn more about these remarkable educators.