CALABASAS, Calif. — A Kansas high school skilled trades teacher is among 50 teachers and teacher teams from across the country who were named Wednesday as semifinalists for the 2019 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. Mark Meyer, who teaches agricultural education at Marion High School in Marion, and his skilled trades program are in the running for a share of $1 million in total cash awards.
Meyer was 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.
“We never cease to be amazed by the talent, creativity and resourcefulness of skilled trades educators,” executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Danny Corwin said. “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.”
Meyer has more than 30 years’ experience teaching agriculture and welding. Growing up on a dairy farm gave him early experience with fixing equipment, and his passion for teaching skilled trades comes from his belief that students learn best by applying what they learn. Meyer’s students pursue activities that reinforce physical science concepts, like studying Bernoulli’s principle before designing wind turbine blades to maximize power production. Meyer is also a teacher leader, training dozens of teachers nationwide in the Curriculum for Agriculture Science Education (CASE) course in agriculture power and technology and in mechanical systems in agriculture.
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.”