Chad Sutton, director of career development at Garrett High School, always knew the school had a special construction trades program, and that belief was further validated with Thursday's announcement it won a $50,000 prize.
Sutton is a winner of the 2020 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence and received $50,000 as part of $1 million awarded to 18 trades teachers nationwide, according to a news release.
He was a semifinalist in 2019.
“It's pretty awesome to include everything that is happening in the Career Development Program on an application and then see that people from across the country believe it is special,” Sutton said by email.
Established in 2017 by Harbor Freight Tools founder Eric Smidt, the award program recognizes outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in U.S. public high schools and the educators inspiring students to learn skills for life after graduation, the release said.
“Trades teachers are educating and developing the tradespeople of the future,” Smidt said in a statement. “Many of the students in their classes today will become – as soon as next spring – the workers who keep our critical care infrastructure, our communication networks, our homes and cars up and running. The prize is our way of saying thank you to their teachers.”
The contest attracted more than 600 applications from 48 states and included three rounds of judging by an independent panel of experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership, the release said.
Sutton joined 14 other $50,000 winners and three $100,000 grand prize winners. The entirety of his award will support Garrett's skilled trades program, the release said.
Sutton likes that students will benefit from the recognition, he said. He plans to use the money to support existing programming, which needs such items as raw materials, equipment and consumables.
“When students start to develop (a) skill, and become passionate about what they are doing, it is life-changing,” Sutton said. “We see it change a little every year. By the time they are seniors, we know that internships and pre-apprenticeships are experiences that allow students to showcase their abilities.”
Sutton began teaching construction trades in 2008 after owning and operating a construction company with his wife, the release said.
Students in Garrett-Keyser-Butler Community Schools start exploring construction and manufacturing as early as fifth grade and select career paths in high school. Core academic subjects – English, math and science – are incorporated in the construction classes.
Sutton is enthusiastic about Brennan Estates, the student-built subdivision near the high school. The 4-acre parcel will have nine homes, the first of which is under construction. Sutton is not aware of any other student-built neighborhoods in the country.
“This program is exciting,” he said, “never a dull moment.”