Four Automotive Teachers Named Winners for National Prize from Harbor Freight Tools for Schools

October 2020 News DT Staff

Four public high school automotive teachers were named winners of the 2020 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence on October 15. They and their schools, and 14 other skilled trades teachers and their schools, will receive more than $1 million in prizes.

The automotive teachers named winners are Robert Caylor of Gulfport High School in Gulfport, Mississippi; Brian Manley of Cherry Creek Innovation Campus in Centennial, Colorado; Michael Shephard of Union County Career and Technical Institute in Scotch Plains, New Jersey; and Wayne Violet of Washington County Technical High School in Hagerstown, Maryland.

Grand Prize winners, including Manley, and their schools will receive $100,000—$70,000 for the high school skilled trades program and $30,000 for the teacher. Prize winners, including Caylor, Shephard, and Violet, will each receive $50,000, with $35,000 going to their public high school skilled trades program and $15,000 to the individual teacher.

“This year has been one of the toughest on record for skilled trades teachers as they switch between in-person, remote or blended learning—all while trying to do their life’s work of preparing the next generation of tradespeople,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “At a time when tradespeople are more essential than ever, so is trades education. We are honored and grateful to have the chance to shine a spotlight on these teachers’ amazing work.”

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, to recognize outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in U.S. public high schools and the teachers who inspire students to learn skills to prepare for life after graduation. As recent research from JFF (formerly known as Jobs for the Future) and funded by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools found, students who “concentrate” (or take multiple trades courses as part of a program) are more likely to graduate than their peers. Upon graduation, students are prepared for either further education or work in fields that routinely rank among the hardest jobs to fill and that have come to be widely recognized as “essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Trades teachers are educating and developing the tradespeople of the future,” Smidt said. “Many of the students in their classes will become—as soon as next spring—the workers who keep our critical care infrastructure, our communication networks, our homes and cars up and running. The prize is our way of saying thank you to their teachers.”

Robert Caylor teaches automotive technology at Gulfport High School in Gulfport, Mississippi. Caylor is a National Board Certified Teacher and Automotive Service Excellence-certified Master Technician who began his career as a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. He changed careers after realizing he made more money and preferred running his own auto repair business. When his auto shop and home were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, Caylor decided to apply for an open teaching position at his son’s high school. Caylor’s automotive students work together in teams to master concepts, perform hands-on work, and gain exposure to different subjects. Students can work for hours in a covered tool storage and vehicle work area, not just on cars, but watercraft, engineering projects, or anything that puts their mechanical skills to use. Caylor’s students regularly find employment in the Gulfport region, including as automotive technicians and as Freightliner diesel technicians. Caylor was a finalist for the 2019 Prize for Teaching Excellence as part of a team with fellow Gulfport teacher Scott Pfaff.

Brian Manley teaches automotive technology at Cherry Creek Innovation Campus in Centennial, Colorado. Manley’s love for all things automotive guided him toward career and technical education classes when he was a high school student. This fall, he will begin his 26th year of teaching. His program was one of the first two certified through Automotive Youth Educational Systems in 1998, and ever since, he has facilitated ongoing apprenticeships with local industry partners. Prior to accepting his current position, Manley had a career as a master automobile technician, an experience that fostered his passion for continued learning. He is currently in the final year of a doctoral program focused on leadership for education equity.

Michael Shephard teaches automotive technology at Union County Career and Technical Institute (UCCTI) in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. He has taught at UCCTI for four years. Shephard’s students learn how to rebuild engines by running diagnostics and performing repairs. During his time teaching, Shephard has expanded his program to include a third year, during which students fix customer cars. In the shop, Shephard teaches students according to their learning styles, using the Visual, Auditory, Read/Write, Kinesthetic (VARK) method. Upon completion of his program, 90 percent of Shephard’s students earn an Automotive Service Excellence certificate.

Wayne Violet teaches automotive technology at his alma mater, Washington County Technical High School in Hagerstown, Maryland. Violet holds 12 Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifications and attends training courses year-round to provide students with a competitive education. Violet’s cooperative work program allows students to begin their careers while attending school, including job shadowing and paid apprenticeships. His class also runs a used car dealership where students conduct mock inspections, repair cars and compare costs to the book value of a vehicle before its purchase by a community member. Violet supports his students to qualify and pass the nationally recognized Maintenance and Light Repair Entry Level ASE exam. Apprenticeship Maryland is the latest partnership that Violet helped to cultivate, and the program hires automotive students as paid apprentices with the goal of continued employment after graduation. Violet was a finalist for the 2019 Prize for Teaching Excellence.

For a list of all 18 winners and finalists, click here.

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 behind the winning program. The 15 Prize winners will each be awarded $50,000, with $35,000 going to their public high school program and $15,000 to the teacher. Because of school, district and/or state policy regarding individual cash awards, the schools of two winners will receive the entire prize winnings. Cash awards given to schools will support winning teachers’ skilled trades programs. Individual winnings can be used however the winner wishes.

The 2020 prize drew more than 600 applications from 48 states and included three rounds of judging, each by an independent panel of experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership. The application process, which included responses to questions and a series of learning modules, was designed to solicit each teacher’s experience, insights and creative ideas about their approach to teaching and success in helping their students achieve excellence in the skilled trades. All learning modules are available here.

In July, the field was narrowed to 50 finalists. The 32 finalists who were not named winners will receive $1,000 gift cards from Harbor Freight Tools. Additionally, given the challenges teachers are facing due to COVID-19, teachers who applied for the prize but did not advance to become finalists were eligible to receive $100 gift cards from Harbor Freight Tools.

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