A welding and woodworking teacher from Republic has won second-place in the 2018 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, earning him and his high school skilled trades program $50,000 as part of $1 million awarded nationally.
Matthew Barbercheck, who teaches welding and woodworking at Republic-Michigamme Schools in Republic, was surprised in his classroom by a representative from Harbor Freight Tools for Schools with the news that he and his school will receive $50,000—$35,000 for the school’s skilled trades program and $15,000 for him.
“The creativity and hands-on projects that Mr. Barbercheck and the other winning 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.”
Three $100,000 first-place prizes were awarded to a welding teacher from Georgia, a building trades teacher from Michigan and an industrial diesel mechanics teacher from Ohio, with the prize winnings split between the individual teacher or team and their high school skilled trades program. Fifteen second-place winners across the country, including Barbercheck, were also surprised with the news that they and their schools had won the cash award. 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.”
Matthew Barbercheck’s love for hands-on applied knowledge started with a “beginning auto” class when he was a high school senior. Barbercheck works to bring complex concepts to life for his students, like using a water balloon demonstration to show them how a stator and rotor work in an electric motor. He actively pursues opportunities that allow him to provide fresh content for his students, such as taking relevant side-jobs with a factory and a local builder. He models exploration and experimentation with students so that mess-ups are encouraged and ideas are explored.
“I teach because every day I get to handle brain power, the most miraculous energy source. I’m farming a delicate and elusive crop, with plants of every variety. There is no monoculture in my job,” Barbercheck wrote in his application for the prize.
The first-place winners of the 2018 prize are Gary Bronson, an industrial diesel mechanics teacher at Laurel Oaks Career Campus in Wilmington, Ohio, Charles Kachmar, who teaches metals and welding at Maxwell High School of Technology in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and Andrew J. Neumann, a building trades teacher at Bay Arenac Intermediate School District Career Center in Bay City, Michigan. Kachmar and Neumann will each receive $100,000—$70,000 for the school’s skilled trades program and $30,000 for the teacher. Because of Ohio’s state policy regarding individual cash awards to public employees, Bronson’s school will receive the entire prize winnings.
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. All learning modules are available here.
For a list of the other 14 second-place winners, click here. The high schools of the remaining 34 semi-finalists will each receive a $1,000 Harbor Freight Tools gift card to support their skilled trades programs. The list of the semifinalists is available here.
For more information about the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, including the final round panels of judges, please visit hftforschoolsprize.org.