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Three Missouri High School Skilled Trades Teachers Among 61 Finalists for 2021 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence
July 14, 2021

LOS ANGELES - High school skilled trades teachers and their programs are often overlooked and under funded. As the United States faces a critical shortage of skilled trades workers, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is shining a spotlight on excellent public high school skilled trades programs with its annual Prize for Teaching Excellence.

Today, the program announced that three public high school teachers from Missouri have been named as finalists for the prize. The finalists were chosen by an independent panel of judges from among a field of more than 700 skilled trades teachers who applied for the prize. The 61 finalists are from 30 states and specialize in trades including advanced manufacturing, welding, construction, automotive and agriculture mechanics.

The winners will be announced in late October. More than $1 million in cash prizes will be shared by 18 teachers and their skilled trades programs! Grand Prize winners will each receive $100,000, with $70,000 going to their public high school skilled trades program and $30,000 to the skilled trades teacher behind the winning program. The 15 additional winners will each be awarded $50,000, with $35,000 going to their public high school program and $15,000 to the teacher. Winners whose school, district and/or state policy prohibits receipt of the individual portion of prize award were eligible to apply on behalf of their school's skilled trades program. If they win, the entire share of the prize will be awarded to the school.

Complete details on all the finalists >>>

Here is an excerpt from Lee's story...
Jackie (Lee) Caughron teaches industrial welding at Grand River Technical School in Chillicothe, Missouri. Throughout his industry career as a welder, Caughron was always inspired by his wife's experience as a business teacher and how students responded to her teaching style. While working at a structural steel company, Caughron trained new personnel and felt great satisfaction when he could help employees improve their skills. He picked up further teaching style ideas and sharpened his own welding skills while taking night courses at GRTS and ended up taking over the position when his instructor retired in the summer of 2001. Now 20 years on at the school, Caughron's program has expanded enough to require additional instructors - including one of his former students. He sets students up for success and career-readiness by taking them on industry tours, bringing in guest speakers, and incorporating youth apprenticeships for real world experience related to their training. >> Read more in the Harbor Freight announcement...

There is rare bipartisan support for increased investment in skilled trades education in high school. More than 76 percent of Republicans, Democrats and Independents said they favor increased public funding for skilled trades education and think that offering skilled trades classes in high school should be a priority, according to polling by NORC at the University of Chicago. The poll was commissioned by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools.

The 2021 finalists now advance to a second round of competition, where they will be asked to respond to online expert-led learning modules designed to solicit their insights and creative ideas about teaching practices. The finalists 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 winners and, finally, name the three Grand Prize winners and 15 additional prize winners.

Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is a program of The Smidt Foundation, established by Harbor Freight Tools owner and founder Eric Smidt, to advance excellent skilled trades education in U.S. public high schools. For more information, visit:

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