By Kathy Chouteau
A Kennedy High School Eagle has been nominated for a special honor. Welding teacher Benjamin Carpenter is one of eight skilled trades teachers from California high schools and among 50 teachers and teacher teams nationwide named as finalists for the 2020 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.
The teacher-finalists and their trades programs are in the running for a share of $1 million in total cash awards.
Carpenter, who was chosen by an independent panel of judges from a field of more than 600 applicants, has worked at Kennedy High for three years.
Over the past two decades, Carpenter’s career has included a teaching position at Richmond High School and work as a welding teacher at renowned industrial arts school, The Crucible, for 12 years. He has also worked as a fabricator and has earned degrees in metalsmithing and design. Carpenter has topped off all of his experience with additional certifications in fire inspection and safety and as an emergency medical technician.
The West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) has run a welding program at Kennedy High School for decades. The program lasts for two years and combines classroom training with hands-on experience. Upon completion, students who pass an exam receive a welding certification which prepares them for entry-level positions and apprenticeships.
In 2017, Chevron Richmond partnered with WCCUSD to completely rehabilitate and improve the welding lab. Chevron employees who work in welding and other specialized craft services helped redesign the welding lab as well as identifying new curriculum that should be taught.
“There is a high-demand need for welders in the real world. Robots can’t do everything that welders do! This program teaches students the skills they will need to put themselves a step ahead in the welding job market,” added Lily Rahnema, Community Engagement Manager for Chevron Richmond.
Chevron Richmond previously worked with the WCCUSD and the Fab Foundation to create a state-of-the-art fabrication lab next door. The Fab Lab Richmond and Welding Lab are designed to empower local students with the skills needed to compete in today’s changing global economy.
Carpenter has further augmented the new welding lab. He encourages classroom collaboration and diversity by dividing his class into groups of five students with varying experience levels, backgrounds, academic expertise and personalities. Groups bear responsibility for the success of their members, according to Swati Pandey of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools.
In his teaching role, Carpenter helps build a pathway for his students to earn college credits toward a postsecondary certificate or degree.
“Trades teachers are truly unsung heroes, and our prize seeks to show everyone how powerful these classes can be,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “Skilled trades education has enormous potential to offer students pathways to multiple postsecondary opportunities, and these are the teachers who are providing them with the knowledge, skills and inspiration year after year.”
Carpenter and his fellow 2020 finalists now advance to a second round of competition. Winners of the prize will be announced in late October. Learn more about the Prize for Teaching Excellence here.