Shining examples

Sutherlin teachers earn Harbor Freights award

As the need for skilled trade workers continues to grow, we’ve seen schools and industry partners increase efforts to shine a spotlight on the many opportunities that exist for students in fields such as manufacturing, automotive, agriculture and more.

In November, the spotlight shined brightly on two Sutherlin teachers who have grown particularly strong career and educational programs at their school. The teachers won second-place in the 2018 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, earning them and their high school skilled trades program $50,000 as part of $1 million awarded nationally.

Wes Crawford and Josh Gary, who teach woods manufacturing, welding and agricultural science at Sutherlin High School, were surprised with the news at a schoolwide assembly in November by a representative from Harbor Freight Tools for Schools.

Photo courtesy of Sutherlin High School
Josh Gary (left) and Wes Crawford accept their 2018 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.

“The creativity and hands-on projects that Mr. Crawford, Mr. Gary and the other winning teachers bring to their classrooms is an inspiration,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, in a press release. “This is education at its best, and we are humbled to honor these teachers and shine a light on excellence in skilled trades education.”

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 Smidt. “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.”

Crawford is in his 12th year teaching at Sutherlin High School, and Gary has taught at the high school for 16 years. Crawford teaches welding as an agricultural science and technology teacher and was recognized in 2018 as the national agriculture teacher of the year. Gary leads the school’s woods manufacturing coursework and has experience in cabinet-making, lathe turning and home remodeling. The pair were also semifinalists for the 2017 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.

When Crawford and Gary began teaching, the high school lacked modern welders, technology access, facility infrastructure, relevant equipment and enough tools, creating a roadblock for the teachers to create a curriculum that would prepare students for a career in the trades.  In 2013, they won a competitive career and trade education (CTE) grant from the state, enabling them to modernize their programs for 21st century learning. They have continued to utilize student interests to drive much of their teaching—personalizing learning and integrating universal skills seamlessly to engage students and support their success in high school and beyond.

“Students of every walk of life and ability come into our buildings daily and discover talents, apply academics, and create,” they wrote in their prize application. “One of the best things is the empowerment that they experience — it is in some ways the great equalizer. When they are in the shop, it is about what you can do, not what you can memorize. The student who is perhaps everyone else’s ‘problem’ enters their element and excels.”

Crawford and Gary have recruited 17 local industry partners from global manufacturers to offer continuing advice on equipment and software selection, teaching strategies and projects. This network also provides their students with important industry relationships, factory tours and candid career advice. The teachers have also created industry partnerships to give their students access to a local saw mill where they can create their own projects. And each summer, the teachers offer a summer shop management seminar for woods and welding teachers. To date, 100 teachers have participated.

“Our shop classes have valedictorians and calculus students along with those seeking modified diplomas,” Crawford and Gary said. “The common theme is their interest and enthusiasm. We need math talented students, we need strong leaders, and we need consistent workers entering the trades, and at Sutherlin High School we have all types engaged.”

The school’s prize winnings will support the skilled trades program being recognized, and the teacher’s or teacher team winnings can be used at their discretion.

The 2018 prize drew more than 550 applications from 49 states and included three rounds of judging, each by an independent panel that included experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership. The field was narrowed this summer to 52 semi-finalists. The application process, which included responses to questions and a series of online video 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.

Douglas County Partners for Student Success is excited to see industry and education connecting in such a strong partnership. Crawford and Gary are two shining examples of the work being done throughout Douglas County to ensure our youth are aware of the many opportunities that exist locally as we strive to “grow our own” workforce.

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