By Kathy Chouteau
Kennedy High School welding teacher Ben Carpenter was honored with a $50,000 national teaching prize Thurs., Oct. 21 during a surprise check presentation ceremony in his classroom. While Kennedy’s skilled trades program will receive $35,000 of the prize money, Carpenter will receive $15,000.
Carpenter joins 18 fellow winners nationwide who prevailed over 700 applicants from 49 states as recipients of the 2021 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. The prize “recognizes outstanding instruction in the skilled trades” at public high schools in the U.S. and the teachers who “inspire students to learn skills to prepare for life after graduation,” per Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, a program of The Smidt Foundation.
During the classroom ceremony, Kennedy Principal Jarod Scott, Assistant Principal Andrew Brooks, Helene Burks, Mike Peritz, teachers and students gathered to honor Carpenter, who started teaching at Kennedy in January 2019. Appearing via a screen set up in the classroom, Tae Kang of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools announced Carpenter’s win as school personnel presented him with a larger-than-life check in person.
Upon the presentation of the check, one of Carpenter’s students called out, “I’m proud of you, Big Dog!”
In additional to the financial support, Carpenter’s classroom also received a large, red U.S. General mechanic’s cart, which Kang said he hopes will serve “as a trophy and tribute for all your hard work for generations to come.”
Kang took time to share an excerpt from Carpenter’s prize application, which embodies his dedication to his students: “I believe that we have responsibilities to younger generations, particularly those who are underserved,” stated Carpenter. “I can’t think of a better way to contribute to the success of future generations than giving young people knowledge and skills that will improve their lives and communities.”
Kang welcomed comments from those in the classroom, with Assistant Principal Brooks speaking up to express that Kennedy is “lucky to have Mr. Carpenter on the staff” and that he is “looking forward to seeing what this shop does over the next decade or two.” He added that with Carpenter’s advocacy, it’s “well on its way to being the best functioning welding shop this side of the Mississippi.”
Principal Scott called it an honor to work with Carpenter, noting that he is “someone who takes what he does seriously [and] takes the students seriously,” and also underscoring his commitment and advocacy that always sees him “looking for avenues to bring students into this field.”
During his time at Kennedy, Carpenter has made great strides in developing his relatively new program to grow in scale and scope, per the WCCUSD. Examples include adding two engineering classes, which offer students “more cerebral and creative design skills” to go along with the hands-on welding skills they are learning, said Carpenter. He added that the program is currently working to “bridge the gap” between designers and builders.
Asked how it felt to receive the national honor, Carpenter told the Standard that “It feels good, that’s the short answer,” adding that, when he was hired, “there was a lot of work to do” on his program. Carpenter said that while he was busy doing that work, he discovered this prize, applied for it last year and became a finalist. “So now we’re here and I feel like—two years of work on this—it just feels good” to win.