Two local teachers receive national teaching award, winning $50k each

Positively Wisconsin

(WFRV) – All in the same day, two local teachers at two different locations were surprised with a $50,000 national teaching award.

According to a release, the 2021 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence drew more than 700 applications from 49 states and included three rounds of judging. Each round was conducted by independent panels of experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy, and civic leadership.

The application process, which included responses to questions and a series of learning modules, was designed to hear 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.

Organizers say the 2021 winners come from 14 different states: Alabama, California, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.

Officials say, in total, the educational institution is awarding $1 million in prizes to skilled trades teachers.

Overall, they explained how Harbor Freight Tools for Schools continuously tries to increase understanding, support, and investment in skilled trades education in U.S. public high schools.

Jay Abitz, Freedom High School

One of the award recipients is a high school teacher in Freedom who was surprised during a ceremony held at the Freedom High School Automotive and Collison Repair classroom in Kaukauna on Thursday and recognized for his excellence in skilled trades education.

Award officials say the prize money will be divided – $35,000 toward the Freedom High School skilled trades program and $15,000 to Abitz.

Abitz told Local 5 he and his wife own their own business and he plans to use Thursday’s winnings to pay off the rest of their loan.

“I love to show my students that cars can be a career or even a hobby,” said Abitz. “I love seeing the confidence in their abilities grow and the rewards they reap from a job well done. Life and school is not about what they learn on any given day, but is all about the experiences! I do my best to prepare them for life after high school to be successful people and good employees.”

Teaching automotive and collision repair at the school for the past 14 years, education officials say Abitz’s instruction has helped students’ get featured in numerous automotive publications with their own work, like Popular Mechanics.

“In my classes, students are challenged, they struggle, they are required to figure it out on their own. I give them experiences that will relate to the real world and teach skills like problem-solving, working independently and as a team, and breaking down complex tasks for step-by-step completion,” explained Abitz.

Abitz says he follows in the footsteps of his father, who was the automotive teacher at the school for 35 years. Other than being a teacher, education has been a huge part of Abitz’s life. He says he’s earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, a master’s degree, and multiple certifications in automotive and collision repair.

Staci Sievert, Seymour Community High School

The second local teacher to be surprised with the award was Staci Sievert, an industrial technology teacher at Seymour Community High School. A group of people congregated at the school’s library Thursday to congratulate her on the win.

Dividing up the $50,000 total prize winnings, education officials say $35,000 will go to Sievert’s program while she receives $15,000.

Sievert told Local 5 she plans to use her winnings to take her family white water rafting through the Grand Canyon.

Sievert says the shop she works at reminds her of her father. “I feel close to my dad when I’m in the shop,” explained Sievert. “I enjoyed watching his work and problem-solving. I remember him often heading out to his shop and saying, ‘I wonder what mistakes I will make today.’ Problem-solving in the shop is a way of life. I am invigorated by the challenge of teaching teenagers how to use and respect equipment while being hands-on, minds-on.”

Sievert has been working in the educational field for quite some time. Prior to becoming a technical education teacher at Seymour Community High School, Sievert was a high school social studies teacher in Seymour for 22 years. School district officials recognized Sievert’s commitment –  learning wood manufacturing, welding, machining, and revising the entire program curriculum.

For her hard work, organizers say Fox Valley Technical College recognized Sievert in the college’s magazine as a “Technical Education Champion.”

Sievert says that she is at her best teaching when she remembers her past learning experiences and becomes challenged to learn something new to help relate to students.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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