A diesel technology teacher from Boise has won second-place in the 2018 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, earning his high school skilled trades program $50,000 as part of $1 million awarded nationally.
Ron Martinez, who teaches heavy equipment diesel technology at Dennis Technical Education Center in Boise, was surprised in his classroom Thursday by a representative from Harbor Freight Tools for Schools -- with the news that his school’s skilled trades program will receive $50,000.
“The creativity and hands-on projects that Mr. Martinez and the other winning teachers bring to their classrooms is an inspiration,” said Danny Corwin, Executive Director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “This is education at its best, and we are humbled to honor these teachers and shine a light on excellence in skilled trades education.”
Three $100,000 first-place prizes were awarded to a welding teacher from Georgia, a building trades teacher from Michigan and an industrial diesel mechanics teacher from Ohio, with the prize winnings split between the individual teacher or team and their high school skilled trades program.
Fifteen second-place winners across the country, including Martinez, were also surprised with the news that they and their schools had won the cash award.
Because of Idaho’s state policy regarding individual cash awards to public employees, Martinez’s school will receive the entire prize winnings. In addition to the more than $1 million in first- and second-place prizes awarded by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, the company Harbor Freight Tools donated $34,000 to 34 semi-finalists.
The prize was started in 2017 by Harbor Freight Tools Founder Eric Smidt to recognize extraordinary public high school skilled trades teachers and programs with a proven track record of dedication and performance. The prize is awarded by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, a program of The Smidt Foundation.
“These incredible teachers are an inspiration-to their students, to their communities and to us,” said Eric Smidt, Harbor Freight Tools founder. “They are masters of their trades and instill in their students a passion for the skilled trades that gives them a path to a meaningful, good-paying career. These are local jobs in every community across America, building and repairing homes, fixing cars and appliances, and so much more. We’re honored to be able to recognize these teachers for inspiring and developing the future workforce our country needs.”
Martinez has been teaching for twenty years and, for twelve years, he has taught heavy equipment diesel technology at The Dennis Center, where 90 percent of his students go on to postsecondary education, industry, and/or the armed forces.
With more than 2,700 hours of industry certificate training, Martinez is a master technician in HD diesel/automotive. He is also a master teacher in Idaho and writes curriculum for the industry and the state’s Professional Technical Education Department. He grew up in Homedale, where his family worked as migrant workers in the surrounding fields and community, and his parents instilled in him the values of hard work and integrity.
“I model trust, comfort and safety with my students, and by doing so, my students are able to become very successful in the classroom and lab areas,” Martinez wrote in his application for the prize. “Most importantly, I try to emulate the need to be good citizens and members of the community.”
Martinez utilizes a wide variety of modern teaching methods and resources to encourage his students. In addition to their regular lab work, Martinez requires his students to develop cover letters and resumes, research the mission statements and goals of industry employers and develop specific goals for their own transition after high school graduation to work, college or the military.
To further connect his students to job opportunities and strengthen his program, Martinez has developed an advisory board of more than twenty industry, academic, and community partners. His students have graduated with more than $120,000 in tools and scholarships, and Martinez has led his students to top honors in the state’s SkillsUSA auto skills competition.
“The HD Diesel field and community have so much to offer. I try to share the wisdom about the industry, past students, and post-secondary programs with my current students,” Martinez said. “We talk about soft skills, goals, high school grades, cover letter, resumes, first impressions, driving record and personal appearance. Students learn that they communicate who they are by their actions and behaviors and how well they communicate with others. Each student represents this HD Diesel program even when they graduate. They are still a valued part of something that they helped create.”
The school’s prize winnings will support the skilled trades program being recognized, and the teacher’s or teacher team winnings can be used at their discretion.
The 2018 prize drew more than 550 applications from 49 states and included three rounds of judging, each by an independent panel that included experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership. The field was narrowed this summer to 52 semi-finalists. The application process, which included responses to questions and a series of online 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.