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South Valley Riverton Journal

Riverton teacher wins $50K for teaching excellence

Nov 07, 2023 01:52PM ● By Morgan Olsen

Jay Hales, winner of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, was awarded a $50K check in October. (Devin Boyle, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools)

Riverton High School teacher Jay Hales was one of 25 teachers across the country who won $50,000 as part of the Harbor Freight Tools For Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.

Hales has been teaching automotive service technology classes at Riverton High School since 1999. His $50,000 prize will be split into two checks - $15,000 for Hales himself, and $35,000 for the automotive service technology program at Riverton High School. 

“I have encouraged and promoted the importance of being honest and putting forth your best work in all of my classes,” Hales said. “I hope by stressing these important attributes and trying to lead the students by example they will all work hard, learn from mistakes and be honest with their customers and employees.”

Hales is one of 25 to win this award and the program is receiving increasing amounts of applicants each year.

“This year there were more than 1,000 applications for the prize, a 31 percent increase from 2022,” stated the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools press release. “The application process included three rounds of judging, each by an independent panel of experts from education, industry, nonprofits and philanthropy. The 25 winners and their programs will receive a total of $1.5 million in cash prizes.”

The winners of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools award teach skilled trades, including automotive repair, construction, advanced manufacturing and industrial technology. The program is designed to reward subjects taught in high schools that aren’t often recognized.

“The prize, now in its seventh year, was created to recognize excellent high school skilled trades teachers, a group of educators who are frequently overlooked and underappreciated,” stated the Harbor Freight press release. “Since 2017, the program has awarded more than $7 million to more than 130 teachers and their schools’ programs. 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.”

The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools program was started in 2017 by the owner of Harbor Freight Tools, Eric Smidt. 

“We are thrilled to announce our newest group of 25 prizewinning teachers,” Smidt said. “They’ll join the more than 100 teachers across America who are now part of a tight network of outstanding teachers who are working together to lift up excellent skilled trades education. We hope this recognition and support will serve as a catalyst for greater investment in this critical sector.”

The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools program aims to make a difference in trade education as the need rises for professionals in respective trade fields.

“There is a growing shortage of skilled trades professionals in the United States,” Danny Corwin said, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “These incredible teachers are educating the next generation of skilled tradespeople through inventive, hands-on programs. We are grateful for the work they do every day in classrooms across the country.”

Hales has always loved working with cars and worked at his hometown gas station growing up. This passion for automotive technology, combined with his desire to give back to society, has translated into a career in public education.

“Throughout his teaching career, Hales has kept his automotive and teaching skills current by working outside of school hours at local automotive businesses and teaching at local community colleges,” stated Hales’ Harbor Freight Tools for Schools biography. “He holds 11 Automotive Service Excellence certifications, has been named Adviser of the Year for SkillsUSA Utah, and previously won the Huntsman Award for Excellence in Teaching.”

Hales works hard to keep his class curriculum up to date with the latest technology and state education standards.

“On top of industry preparedness and accessibility, Hales emphasizes organization, collaboration and opportunity in his class,” stated Hales’ bio. “The space is set up with long lunch-style tables, so students can sit directly across from each other and work through assignments together. Each class begins with the day’s learning objectives so students are aware of expectations. They start with shop safety and a unit on tool identification and demonstration before moving to hands-on learning in the 12-bay shop space. Students rotate between stations to work on different foci, such as identifying parts and performing maintenance checks. While Hales is always observant of students’ work, he prefers to let them work through lessons independently or in small groups so they can take ownership of their work, learn from mistakes and gain confidence in their abilities.”

Hales’ curriculum is impressive and shows how deserving he is of this award.

“Hale’s course is ASE-accredited and also offers apprenticeship opportunities, sponsored through the Ford ACE program,” stated Hales’ Harbor Freight Tools for Schools biography. “His curriculum is aligned with Weber State University, giving students up to 12 transferable credit hours if they choose to pursue an automotive associate or bachelor’s degree. Online training used in the program also offers up to 111 industry courses and certificates through Ford ACE, A/C Delco Trainings and SP2. Hales’s students showcase their skills at a variety of competitions as well, including the UVU Auto Expo, Weber State Automotive contests and SkillsUSA regional, state and national competitions.”

Hales was surprised with the news of his award during class on Tuesday, Oct. 3, with the support of colleagues, friends, family and local media. λ