ENOSBURG FALLS — An automotive technology teacher from Enosburg Falls has won second place in the 2019 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, earning his high school skilled trades program $35,000 as part of $1 million awarded nationally.
Baxter Weed, who teaches automotive technology at Cold Hollow Career Center in Enosburg Falls, was surprised 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 personally.
“Skilled trades educators are crucial to helping students stay engaged and motivated in high school,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “These amazing teachers connect students to promising careers, show them how to apply academics to the real world and help them feel pride and accomplishment—something they might not experience in all their classes.”
Three $100,000 first-place prizes were awarded to Cesar Gutierrez, a manufacturing teacher from Tucson, Arizona, Wendy Schepman, a landscape operations teacher from Stuart, Florida and Brent Trankler, a welding teacher from Sikeston, Missouri, with the prize winnings shared between the individual teacher or team and their high school skilled trades program.
Fifteen second-place winners across the country, including Weed, were also surprised with the news that they and their schools had won the cash award.
Because of school, district or state policy regarding individual cash awards, the schools of three of the winners will receive the entire prize winnings.
Prizes are awarded by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, a program of The Smidt Foundation.
“It is our dedicated skilled trades teachers, who inspire students to pursue these meaningful careers, that allow our economy to thrive and make so much of what we depend on possible,” Smidt said.
A computer engineering major in college, Weed had always been on an exclusively “college prep” track and was unaware that career education was an option.
It was his passion for all things mechanical that led him to transfer to an automotive program and take a job at a local independent shop before becoming a teacher.
Weed’s automotive program is aligned to national standards and industry requirements, and students can obtain postsecondary credits while still in high school through their courses.
Cold Hollow’s auto program is one of the few in Vermont that is part of a formal ASE mentorship program, giving students the opportunity to job-shadow and receive co-operative job placements.
After school, Weed offers an automotive club for students to hone their fabrication, welding and performance skills on everything from a custom motorcycle to a lowered panel truck, letting students’ curiosity guide the work.
Over the past seven years, half of Weed’s graduates have entered employment in automotive or a related field.
Of students receiving a co-op placement, one in three receive full-time job offers upon graduation.
“Having former students gainfully employed, owning businesses, paying taxes and living in the same area they grew up in shows the enormous payback for the time they spent practicing their skills with me,” Weed said.
“Many of these graduates have ‘broken the cycle’ of living in poverty and are inspirations to their families.”
The high schools of the 32 semifinalists, including Weed’s will each receive a $1,000 Harbor Freight Tools gift card to support their skilled trades programs.
The 2019 prize drew nearly 750 applications from 49 states and included three rounds of judging, each by a separate independent panel of experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership.
The field was narrowed this summer to 50 semifinalists.