CALABASAS, CA—Three public high school skilled trades teachers—a welding teacher from Georgia, a building trades teacher from Michigan and an industrial diesel mechanics teacher from Ohio—are the first-place winners of the 2018 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. They and their schools, and 15 second-place winners and their schools will receive more than $1 million in prizes.
The first-place winners are Gary Bronson, an industrial diesel mechanics teacher at Laurel Oaks Career Campus in Wilmington, OH, Charles Kachmar, who teaches metals and welding at Maxwell High School of Technology in Lawrenceville, GA, and Andrew J. Neumann , a building trades teacher at Bay Arenac Intermediate School District Career Center in Bay City, MI. Kachmar and Neumann were each surprised in their classrooms today by representatives from Harbor Freight Tools for Schools with the news that they and their schools will receive $100,000—$70,000 for the high school skilled trades program and $30,000 to the teacher. Bronson's school was closed because of weather, so he will be presented with the award at a later date. Because of Ohio's state policy regarding individual cash awards to public employees, Bronson's school will receive the entire prize winnings.
“The creativity and hands-on projects that these teachers bring to their classrooms is an inspiration,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “This is education at its best, and we are humbled to honor these teachers and shine a light on excellence in skilled trades education.”
Each of the fifteen second-place winners across the country were also surprised with the news they and their schools will receive $50,000. In addition to the more than $1 million in first- and second-place prizes awarded by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, the company Harbor Freight Tools donated $34,000 to 34 semi-finalists.
The prize was started in 2017 by Harbor Freight Tools Founder Eric Smidt to recognize extraordinary public high school skilled trades teachers and programs with a proven track record of dedication and performance. The prize is awarded by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, a program of The Smidt Foundation.
“These incredible teachers are an inspiration—to their students, to their communities and to us,” said Eric Smidt, Harbor Freight Tools founder. “They are masters of their trades and instill in their students a passion for the skilled trades that gives them a path to a meaningful, good-paying career. These are local jobs in every community across America, building and repairing homes, fixing cars and appliances, and so much more. We’re honored to be able to recognize these teachers for inspiring and developing the future workforce our country needs.”
First-place winner Gary Bronson has taught industrial diesel mechanics at Laurel Oaks Career Campus for eight years, after working as a professional diesel technician and mechanic for nearly two decades, inspired by the engines and automotive classes he took in high school. In Bronson’s lab, students use basic electrical principles to tackle projects like building mobility scooters and repairing large boats and jet skis. His student teams start with shop safety and procedures and advance to overhauling engines. In one of the most complex projects in his classroom, Bronson’s students work on an International ProStar truck, replacing the brakes, wiring the lighting and completing its annual inspection. Under Bronson’s leadership, the truck has become a project for other skilled trades students at Laurel Oaks, as they work together to debut the truck at the Cavalcade of Customs auto show in Cincinnati.
Charles Kachmar has been a teacher for 23 years, following a career as a marine insurance underwriter. He has taught metals and welding at Maxwell High School of Technology since 2012. Kachmar has rebuilt and revitalized the skilled trades program at the school by raising standards and developing career opportunities for students through a dual credit program with Gwinnett Technical College, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor. Under his leadership, Kachmar has changed the image of the welding program at Maxwell High from a class of last resort to one of the most popular classes in the school. Kachmar’s students give back to the community by building beds for local homeless women and children in need of emergency shelter. With the same fanfare as signing ceremonies for college-bound athletes, Kachmar holds a signing ceremony for his graduating seniors to announce where they will go on to school or employment.
Andrew J. Neumann has taught the building trades program at the Bay Arenac Intermediate School District Career Center for more than 20 years-the same program he attended as a high school senior. A fourth-generation carpenter, Neumann worked for eight years as an apprentice and journeyman carpenter, where he helped build homes, malls and other large projects at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. He went on to earn undergraduate, graduate and doctorate degrees as he transitioned into teaching. Neumann continues to use his industry network with regional contractors and labor organizations to connect his students with internships and local employers. As a capstone project each year, Neumann's high school seniors design, build and market a new $250,000 house from the ground up.