SkillsUSA Instructors Honored for Teaching Excellence

Published: October 26, 2021
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Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Recognizes Outstanding CTE Educators

Leesburg, Va., Oct. 25, 2021 — Harbor Freight Tools for Schools has awarded $400,000 in teaching excellence awards to six SkillsUSA instructors from across the country in the 2021 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. The prize recognizes outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in U.S. public high schools and the teachers who inspire students to learn skills for life after graduation. Excellence is defined through the program as teachers who love their subject matter, exhibit a high degree of knowledge and skill in their trade area, implement a curriculum matched to a relevant career pathway, encourage exploration and experimentation by students in a safe environment, and connect students to new relationships and experiences outside the classroom. Over $1 million in prizes were awarded for 2021, including three first-place prize awards of $100,000, with $70,000 going to the public high school skilled trades program and $30,000 going to the eligible individual skilled trades teacher behind the winning application. Fifteen second-place winners were each awarded $50,000, with $35,000 to the public high school program and $15,000 to the eligible teacher. The program began in 2017. “It is exciting to see so many SkillsUSA instructors recognized by our partner Harbor Freight Tools for Schools this year,” said SkillsUSA executive director Chelle Travis. “We salute these winners as positive examples for all of career and technical education. These SkillsUSA instructors have demonstrated both a passion for teaching and innovation in the classroom.” The 2021 winners include these SkillsUSA instructors: First Place ($100,000)
  • Jeffrey Bertke, Electrical Trades, Upper Valley Career Center, Ohio
  • Derek Wray, Automotive and Diesel Technology, Salem High School, Va.
Second Place ($50,000 each)
  • Jay Abitz, Automotive and Collision Repair, Freedom High School, Wis.
  • Jessica Bowlin, Construction, Auburn High School, Ala.
  • Brian Copes, Construction and Manufacturing, Chickasaw High School, Ala.
  • Nicholas Jordan, Construction, Montecito High School, Calif.
Cash awards given to schools will support winning teachers’ skilled trades programs. Individual winnings can be used however the winner wishes. The 2021 program drew more than 700 applications from 49 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 to complete, was designed to solicit each teacher’s experience, insights and creative ideas about their approach to teaching and their documented success in helping their students achieve excellence in the skilled trades. In July, the field was narrowed to 61 finalists. The 43 finalists who were not named winners will receive $1,000 gift cards from Harbor Freight Tools.

About Harbor Freight Tools for Schools

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 public high schools across America. With a deep respect for the dignity of these fields and for the intelligence and creativity of people who work with their hands, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools aims to drive a greater understanding of and investment in skilled trades education, believing that access to quality skilled trades education gives high school students pathways to graduation, opportunity, good jobs and a workforce our country needs. Harbor Freight Tools is a major supporter of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools program. For more information, visit

About SkillsUSA

SkillsUSA is a nonprofit partnership of education and industry founded in 1965 to strengthen the nation’s skilled workforce. Driven by employer demand, SkillsUSA helps students develop necessary personal and workplace skills along with technical skills grounded in academics. This SkillsUSA Framework empowers every student to succeed at work and in life, while helping to close the skills gap in which millions of positions go unfilled. Through SkillsUSA’s championships program and curricula, employers have long ensured schools are teaching relevant technical skills, and with SkillsUSA’s new credentialing process, they can now assess how ready potential employees are for the job. SkillsUSA has members nationwide in high schools, colleges and middle schools, covering over 130 trade, technical and skilled service occupations, and is recognized by the U.S. departments of education and labor as integral to career and technical education. It has served nearly 13.8 million members since 1965. For more information, visit
SkillsUSA Contacts
Jane Short or Karen Kitzel 703-777-8810 or

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