Taylor Donnelly, an agricultural mechanics teacher Sheridan High School, has been named a winner of the 2022 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, winning $15,000 for herself and $35,000 for her program.
Donnelly is one of 20 prize winners across the country – and the only one in Arkansas -- who were surprised with the news that they had won.
The mission of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is to increase understanding, support and investment in skilled trades education in U.S. public high schools.
Donnelly discovered she was an award winner in a surprise ceremony during her first-period class that was attended by her students and about 25 others, including state Education Commissioner Johnny Key. In addition to local media, two Little Rock TV stations were there to cover this “good news” event.
In her application she submitted in April, Donnelly wrote, “So much confidence can be built in a shop class setting because students learn to think of something they need, blueprint it, build it, and then use it for the intended purpose. That satisfaction is what drives my students to do more and work harder than they do in so many other general education classes.”
“We cannot overstate the impact that high school skilled trades teachers are having in the classroom. Hands-on skilled trades classes are making a comeback, and we couldn’t be prouder to celebrate the accomplishments of these remarkable teachers and their programs,’’ said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools.
Overall, there are winners from 15 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.
The winning teachers come from a variety of skilled trades career pathways including automotive, construction, carpentry, industrial technology, welding, agricultural mechanics, and machining.
The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence was launched 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.
“We deeply appreciate the work skilled trades teachers do to prepare and inspire our next generation of tradespeople,” Smidt said. “Their work is urgently needed, because while our country’s need for building and repairs is growing, our skilled trades workforce is shrinking.”
The 2022 prize drew a record 768 applications from all 50 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 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.