Bucks County Technical High School teacher among semifinalists up for cash prize

Jeff Cesari is one of 52 teachers in the running for a share of $1 million in cash prizes for the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools 2018 Prize for Teaching Excellence

The Times

Four Pennsylvania high school skilled trades teachers are among the 52 teachers and teacher teams from across the country who were named as semifinalists for the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools 2018 Prize for Teaching Excellence and are in the running for a share of $1 million in cash prizes.

Jeff Cesari, a power equipment technology teacher at Bucks County Technical High School in Fairless Hills, Travis Crate, who teaches welding at the Venango Technology Center in Oil City, Todd Sedlak, who teaches machining trades at Central Westmoreland CTC in New Stanton, and Eric Wagaman, a building construction trades teacher at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center in Chambersburg, were chosen from more than 500 skilled trades teachers who applied for the prize. The semifinalists — some competing as individuals and some as teacher teams — hail from 27 states and specialize in trades ranging from construction and carpentry to automotive repair, welding, advanced manufacturing and agriculture mechanics.

Through two more rounds of judging, the field of 52 semifinalists will be narrowed to 18 first- and second-place winners, who will split $1 million in total cash awards. The three first-place winners will each receive $100,000, with $70,000 going to their public high school skilled trades program and $30,000 to the individual skilled trades teacher or teacher team behind the winning program. The 15 second-place winners will each be awarded $50,000, with $35,000 going to their public high school program and $15,000 to the teacher or team. Semi-finalists whose school, district or state policy prohibits receipt of the individual portion of prize earnings were eligible to apply on behalf of their school’s skilled trades program. The first- and second-place winners are expected to be announced on Nov. 15.

“These semifinalists represent amazing depth and breadth in high school skilled trades education, and they exhibit incredible enthusiasm for teaching students to work with their hands, to love learning and be prepared for the future,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “We are thrilled to recognize their exceptional teaching and to raise the profile of their excellent work through these awards.”

Jeff Cesari has been teaching power equipment technology since 1995. His program covers the entire range of mechanical and electronic skills related to all types of power equipment, motorcycles, compact diesel engines, and marine technology. He also focuses on instilling in his students a wide range of soft skills to ensure that all of his students are ready for jobs after graduation. All students who graduate from Cesari’s program have scored proficient or advanced on the state’s Technical Program Examination in power technology. Cesari was also a semifinalist for the 2017 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.

After working in industry as a welding supervisor, Travis Crate began teaching welding in 1998 and still finds every weld he teaches at Venango Technology Center to be exciting as the first one he learned when he was in high school. Crate encourages his students to give back to the school and community through projects like building a baseball backstop and installing a foot dryer at the local grocery store. When he is not teaching, Crate operates a small beef farm in North Western Pennsylvania. Crate was also a semifinalist for the 2017 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.

Todd Sedlak currently teaches machine trades at Central Westmoreland CTC, after working in industry for 18 years. As a third-generation machinist, Sedlak is passionate about training the next generation of skilled trades workers. He aligns his curriculum so his students earn industry-recognized credentials through the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS).

Eric Wagaman currently teaches building construction trades at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center and has spent the last 25 years teaching construction to high school students, young adults and work release inmates. His students learn a variety of skills, including carpentry, masonry, plumbing and construction management, to prepare them to enter the workforce. This year, all of Wagaman’s seniors scored an advanced rating on their National Occupational Competency Test (NOCTI), and in most years, 95 percent of his seniors are offered full-time employment upon graduation.

The full list of the 52 semifinalists is posted here.

For the second round application for the prize, semifinalists will respond to a series of online expert-led video learning modules designed to solicit their insights and creative ideas about their teaching practices and how to inspire their students to achieve excellence in the skilled trades.

Each round of winners is selected by separate panels of judges independent of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools.

This is the second year of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, which was started by Harbor Freight Tools founder Eric Smidt to recognize outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in American public high schools.

“Skilled trades teachers are unsung heroes,” Smidt said. “They teach our students skills that help them in life and in careers. We respect and value the men and women who work with their hands to design, build and repair homes, schools, hospitals and businesses in our towns and cities, as well as our cars, trucks and tractors. These skilled and creative workers keep our communities thriving. At the same time, there are now hundreds of thousands of great skilled trades job openings, and that number is expected to grow. We want to elevate the dignity and importance of this work by recognizing exceptional skilled trades teachers from our country’s public schools who open the door to learning and opportunity.”

News of the prize and other information about skilled trades education will be posted on Facebook, Instagramand Twitter.

For more information, visit https://harborfreighttoolsforschools.org.