CALABASAS, Calif. -- Woodworking instructors of high schools in New York, Minnesota and Idaho are in the running for the top prize of the 2020 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools (HFTS) Prize for Teaching Excellence.  

The educators are among 50 finalists in the fourth annual award program in which teachers and their high school skilled trades programs share $1 million in total cash awards.

The woodworking instructors heading to the teaching prize finals are:

Francis Carlson, Cabinet Making and Millwork instructor at Bonners Ferry High School in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, is a 2011 graduate of the school where she now teaches. To overcome COVID-19’s roadblock to student tours at local mills and involvement with competitions, Carlson developed career-centered curriculum that guided students through applying for a job, building a resume, and further exploring the cabinet making industry. Carlson was a finalist for the 2019 Prize for Teaching Excellence.

Ryan Dewey, Scott Frischmon and Scott Leffler teach industrial technology at Chisago Lakes High School in Lindstrom, Minn. Their courses cover woodworking, automotive, small engines, computer-aided design, welding, manufacturing and construction. Students in their program can earn college credits while in high school and access opportunities like work-based learning, field trips and mentorships with local tradespeople. These relationships often grow into summer jobs and postsecondary employment opportunities.

Leif Sorgule teaches technology, engineering, construction and manufacturing at Peru High School in Peru, N.Y. Before becoming a teacher 11 years ago, Sorgule earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in technology education and worked previously as a marine mechanic and carpenter. His courses integrate cutting-edge technology with hands-on use of tools, from computer-aided design and coding computer numerical control (CNC) machines to metal fabrication and woodworking.

The 50 finalists were chosen from an independent panel of judges from more than 600 entrants. In addition to woodworking, skilled trades taught by finalists include automotive, agriculture, construction, welding and technical theater.

“Trades teachers are truly unsung heroes, and our prize seeks to show everyone how powerful these classes can be,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “Skilled trades education has enormous potential to offer students pathways to multiple postsecondary opportunities, and these are the teachers who are providing them with the knowledge, skills and inspiration year after year.”

The 2020 finalists 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. They 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 three of those teachers Grand Prize recipients. All winners will be announced in late October.

The 18 winners will split the $1 million prize. 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 individual skilled trades teacher or teacher team 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 or team. Finalists whose school, district and/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, their entire share of the prize will be awarded to the school.

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