Bear River teacher among 50 semifinalists for the 2019 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence

CALABASAS, Calif. July 17, 2019 – Four Northern and Central California high school skilled trades teachers are among 50 teachers and teacher teams from across the country who were named today as semifinalists for the 2019 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. They and their skilled trades programs are in the running for a share of $1 million in total cash awards.

Andrew Bias, who teaches industrial technology at Folsom High School in Folsom, Ken Cox, who teaches automotive technology at Redwood High School in Visalia, Eric Dyer, who teaches agriculture mechanics at Woodland Senior High School in Woodland, and Morgan Perry, who teaches agricultural mechanics at Bear River High School in Grass Valley, were chosen by an independent panel of judges from among a field of 749 skilled trades teachers who applied for the prize. The semifinalists—some competing as individuals and some as teacher teams—hail from 26 states and specialize in trades including manufacturing, welding, construction, automotive and agriculture mechanics. California boasts the most semifinalists from a single state—nine total.

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“We never cease to be amazed by the talent, creativity and resourcefulness of skilled trades educators,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “This year’s semifinalists teach more than a dozen trades and have spent a collective 800 years in the classroom—teaching our students critical skills that our country needs—and we couldn’t be more excited to honor their work.”

With degrees in welding technology, agricultural science and agricultural education, as well as multiple industry certifications, Morgan Perry has deep expertise that has shaped the curriculum she has developed for her students. At Bear River High School, Perry teaches her agriculture mechanics students the FFA curriculum, which includes coaching them to use their skills to design and build projects that are sold at a live auction in the community. Her students receive community college credit for her introductory course, and they receive industry certifications upon completion of advanced courses. Perry visits each of her freshman students at home to meet their families, discover their interests and tailor her courses to each year’s class of students.

After four years in the Marine Corps, Andrew Bias worked in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning industry for 10 years, becoming a lead HVAC mechanic and adding expertise in solar energy systems along the way. He returned to school to become a teacher, and since starting at Folsom High School, has launched a manufacturing and product design pathway for students. After only a year, the program has doubled in size. Bias’ students complete projects in wood, sheet metal, 3D printing, AutoCAD, drafting and welding. He guides students in building deeply researched projects of their own choosing, and weaves in traditional academic subjects by requiring students to create detailed proposals for the products they choose to create. He invites guest speakers from local industry to connect students to advanced training and jobs, and takes students to “Trades Day,” where they interact directly with trades union and industry representatives.

Recruited to take over the automotive program at Redwood High School, Ken Cox sold his auto repair business and jumped head-first into teaching. His students train in automotive technologies directly linked to local industry opportunities and can earn multiple industry-recognized certifications. They compete in SkillsUSA, car club and local community college events in automotive, electrical and leadership categories. In addition to traditional automotive principles, Cox’s students also learn electric and hydrogen fuel cell technologies. This year, his students converted a 1970 Volkswagen Beetle from gasoline power to full electric, fabricating many of the required parts in-house. His students learn professionalism and leadership, with designated “shop managers” charged with mentoring and team-building.

Eric Dyer has been teaching agriculture for 33 years. He received the Honorary American Degree from FFA in 2007 and the Agriculture Teacher of Excellence Award from the California Agriculture Teachers Association in 2014. With deep involvement in the California Agriculture Teachers Association, Dyer trains and mentors other agriculture teachers and helps write curriculum to guide the state’s programs, even helping to create a how-to guide on constructing greenhouses at school. All of Dyer’s students compete in FFA and present at least one project in the local county fair. His agriculture mechanics students have rebuilt the school’s horticulture lab, which provides Woodland High’s agriculture students direct access to the local seed industry.

The full list of the 50 semifinalists is posted here.

The 2019 semifinalists now advance to a second round of competition, where they will be asked to respond to online expert-led video learning modules designed to solicit their insights and creative ideas about teaching practices. The contenders will be asked how ideas from the modules might be used to inspire students to achieve excellence in the skilled trades. Two rounds of judging, each by separate independent panels of reviewers, will narrow the field to 18 finalists and, finally, name the three first-place and 15 second-place winners. Winners will be announced on Oct. 24.

The 18 winners will split $1 million in prizes. First-place winners will each receive $100,000, with $70,000 going to their public high school skilled trades program and $30,000 to the individual skilled trades teacher or teacher team behind the winning program. Second-place winners will each be awarded $50,000, with $35,000 going to their public high school program and $15,000 to the teacher or team. Past winners have dedicated their winnings to modernizing their shops, investing in specialized tools, promoting their programs to families and purchasing equipment to prepare students for higher-level accreditations. Semifinalists whose school, district or state policy prohibits receipt of the individual portion of prize earnings were eligible to apply on behalf of their school’s skilled trades program. If they win, the entire prize will be awarded to the school.

The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence was started in 2017 by Eric Smidt, the founder of national tool retailer Harbor Freight Tools. The prize recognizes outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in U.S. public high schools and the teachers who inspire students to learn a trade that prepares them for life after graduation. Now, in the third year of the prize, more than 150 teachers have been recognized as winners or semifinalists. Winners are invited to attend an annual convening to share best practices for advancing excellence in skilled trades education.

“Skilled trades teachers help hundreds of thousands of students each year experience the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that comes from learning a trade,” Smidt said. “These teachers, their students and skilled tradespeople everywhere, too often don’t receive the respect and gratitude they deserve. Without them, construction would halt, homes, cars and appliances would fall into disrepair, and our infrastructure would crumble. We are thrilled to be able to honor and elevate the importance of their work.”

About Harbor Freight Tools for Schools
Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is a program of The Smidt Foundation, established by Harbor Freight Tools Founder Eric Smidt, to advance excellent skilled trades education in public high schools across America. With a deep respect for the dignity of these fields and for the intelligence and creativity of people who work with their hands, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools aims to drive a greater understanding of and investment in skilled trades education, believing that access to quality skilled trades education gives high school students pathways to graduation, opportunity, good jobs and a workforce our country needs. Harbor Freight Tools is a major supporter of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools program. For more information, visit us at harborfreighttoolsforschools.org/ and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.