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Harbor Freight “Tools for Schools” Prize for Teaching Excellence Highlights the Importance of CTE Programs Across the Country

• Lowell Matthews


When Harbor Freight Tools launched its inaugural Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence last June, so many outstanding skilled trades teachers and programs were profiled in public high schools across the nation. As a judge in the contest, I was immediately struck by the energy these teachers bring to their students to help them explore pathways to career success and, just as importantly, allow them to gain the authenticated skills that will actually get them there. Winners were announced this past fall, yet I’m still reflecting appreciatively on the winners, finalists and all the teachers who took the time to showcase their schools and programs.

Why are Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs important? Every day a child wakes up wondering the purpose of school and learning. CTE programs and their teachers bring purpose to learning by allowing students to earn authenticated skills sets that are driven by labor market demand. These programs forge connections with current or future employers, bringing clarity to students as they learn to solve real-world problems and, at the same time, earn industry-recognized credentials. These credentials are a beacon to employers because they can verify that the student has mastered the skills in demand.

Regrettably, not every child gets this opportunity for achievement. Too often, we assume there is a one-size-fits-all approach to education, as if the math used to calculate a stair’s riser is different than the math in a traditional classroom. Yet for many students, the path to career success does not involve a four-year academic degree. This Harbor Freight contest became a great opportunity to reflect on the multiple options available for students to find career success. Just as each student is different, each of these CTE teachers and programs is different. However, they share one common element—the students love it and, from a career perspective, will thank their teachers and schools for it.

I want to thank Harbor Freight Tools for the opportunity to judge the 2017 inaugural contest. I salute them for recognizing teachers who bring purpose to their schools, classroom and students every day.

About the author

Lowell Matthews

Lowell is the Director of College and Career Pathways for ExcelinEd. He previously served as Staff Director for the Florida Legislature’s Senate Committees on Education Pre-K-12 and Higher Education, where he helped create Florida’s industry certification incentive to create a nexus between education and the workforce. Lowell is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt University Law School. He also served in the U.S. Army. He lives in Rochester, MN with his wife and two kids.