Joshua Bowles, a high school carpentry teacher from Taylorsville, has been named a winner of the 2022 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, winning $15,000 for himself and $35,000 for his program.
Bowles, who teaches at Alexander Central High School, is one of 20 prize winners across the country who were surprised Tuesday, October 4, with the news that they had won.
In addition to ACHS Career and Technical Education staff and students, Bowles was joined on Tuesday in an assembly in the school auditorium by N.C. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cathy Truitt, Congresswoman Viriginia Foxx, ACHS Principal Jacob Lail, Alexander County Schools Board of Education members Ramie Robinson and Matt Cooksey, Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner, and a Harbor Freight representative.
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.
“We cannot overstate the impact that high school skilled trades teachers are having in the classroom. Hands-on skilled trades classes are making a comeback, and we couldn’t be prouder to celebrate the accomplishments of these remarkable teachers and their programs,’’ said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools.
Overall, there are winners from 15 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.
The winning teachers come from a variety of skilled trades career pathways including automotive, construction, carpentry, industrial technology, welding, agricultural mechanics, and machining.
“I work to improve my teaching by constantly evaluating what works and what doesn’t. I’m not sure I have ever taught any module or lesson the same way twice. I am always making tweaks that will help my students better understand,” Joshua Bowles said in his prize entry.
“My program affects students’ lives even more than they can realize now; sometimes information and skills are stored and only used later on when necessary. Students learn skills and knowledge that they will not receive anywhere else in their educational experience through my class. Seeing a product to completion with a sense of pride and satisfaction being one of them. They learn the value of working hard, taking pride in their work, attention to detail, and what quality is acceptable in the market.”
Joshua Bowles has taught carpentry for thirteen years – the last ten at Alexander Central High School. Bowles found his passion for helping others in high school, where he was moved by his teachers’ dedication and helped other students in his agricultural mechanics classes. Bowles received a full-ride North Carolina Teaching Fellows Scholarship to North Carolina State University for Agricultural Education and taught agricultural mechanics at Orange High School after taking over for his beloved and dedicated mentor teacher. When the carpentry instructor position opened at his alma mater, he moved back to his home county to take the job and marry his future wife.
Bowles’s curriculum in carpentry initially focuses on residential construction, and prepares students to launch a career in construction, or in other related fields, such as architecture, masonry, electrical, plumbing, concrete finishing, insulation installation, and more. His more advanced classes focus largely on commercial construction and techniques that are specific to the commercial industry, giving students the skills they need to pursue a career at commercial construction companies.
Bowles’s students enter a learning culture that is both academic and hands-on with an emphasis on high expectations, repetition, and perfection. He runs the class as close to a residential construction site as possible and all students are expected to participate with high professional standards.
Bowles’ students start with introductory birdhouses and move into creating Adirondack benches, picnic tables, doghouses, storage buildings, and homes. Students can hone their skills over several years on Bowles’ student-built job site, where his classes construct an entire home for Habitat for Humanity. From framing the floor system, walls, front and back decks, stairs, and handrails to installing vinyl siding, doors, laminate flooring, and locks, from hanging drywall to perfecting trim, his students do everything. They have completed twelve different Habitat for Humanity homes.
Bowles wrote in his application, “The problems that students must solve are not contrived by me or put forth as hypotheticals but are natural to the building process. Problems naturally arise as students build, especially on the jobsite and because of their experience levels. I tend to try and let students attempt to solve their own problem first and then guide them in the right direction after some small failures. Failure is a much better teacher sometimes than success.”
Bowles connects his students to experiences beyond high school, inviting local industry professionals and community college representatives to come speak to his students about furthering their skills. He also places students in a summer apprenticeship program in the trades through the local community college. In this program, students are paired with a local employer in their area and they work for them Tuesday – Friday (with Monday as a class day.) Bowles’ students also showcase their skills locally at the North Carolina pre-apprenticeship contest and a local county construction rodeo, and also through their local SkillsUSA chapter. They compete at the SkillsUSA regional competition, state competition, and this year at the national level in carpentry.
Bowles works to continuously improve his teaching by constantly modifying and evaluating his curriculum. Four years ago, he obtained his certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
“Skilled trades teachers develop a rapport with students that other teachers do not have the opportunity to do. In other classrooms, teachers are primarily teaching to the class at large. As a skilled trade teacher, we work alongside students in one-on-one or small group situations in the shop, at Habitat for Humanity, student-built house projects, etc. You get to know the student better and can therefore individually tailor learning.”
Mike Fenley, representing Sen. Richard Burr, expressed appreciation to Bowles and fellow CTE teachers who equip the next generation of skilled tradespeople.
Congresswoman Foxx commented that she was delighted to attend and celebrate Bowles’ accomplishments. She thanked the Harbor Freight for its support of CTE programs. Rep. Foxx also shared that her younger brother, who did not want to attend college, was positively affected by a vocational carpentry apprenticeship program during his formative years, leading to his obtaining a journeyman license.
Dr. Hefner, Alexander’s school superintendent, thanked those attending and related that, “When I became superintendent about eight years ago, my goal was for Alexander County Schools to be the best game in town. We are the best game in town. And that is because of teachers like Joshua Bowles and the opportunities we offer all children in Alexander County.”
“Today is so special for Alexander County Schools and Alexander Central High School. We are on the map, and I cannot wait to see how this wonderful grant will be used to strength the CTE program,” Dr. Hefner related.
Cathy Truitt, State Superintendent and former high school English teacher, thanked Harbor Freight for its support of CTE and congratulated Bowles, saying, “You are clearly a credit to your profession.”
She also said that school personnel had been telling students for many years the only way to seek a career was to go to a four-year college. “That is simply not true. There are many pathways to achieve the American Dream…a lot of those pathways do not involve going to college right after high school…That’s okay…because of programs like the one Mr. Bowles teaches.”
The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence was launched in 2017 by Eric Smidt, the founder of Harbor Freight Tools, to recognize outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in U.S. public high schools.
Grand prize 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 behind the winning program. The 15 additional prize winners will each be awarded $50,000, with $35,000 going to their public high school skilled trades program and $15,000 to the teacher. Due to school, district and/or state policy regarding individual cash awards, the schools of several of the winners will receive the entire prize winnings.
The 2022 prize drew a record 768 applications from all 50 states and included three rounds of judging, each by an independent panel of experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership.
In June, the field was narrowed to 50 finalists. The high school skilled trades programs of the 30 finalists who were not named winners Tuesday will each receive a $1,000 gift card from Harbor Freight Tools.
Harbor Freight Tools is a major supporter of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools program. For more information, visit: harborfreighttoolsforschools.org.