Providing tools for learning: Laurel Oaks students benefit from free tool kits via Harbor Freight program


WILMINGTON — As many schools across the country continue to manage virtual teaching and learning this school year due to COVID-19, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools announced this week that it has distributed more than 3,500 tool kits to skilled trades teachers in U.S. public high schools to lend to their students.

Among this initial group was Gary Bronson, who teaches industrial diesel mechanics at Laurel Oaks Career Campus.

Bronson won the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools prize for Teaching Excellence in 2018.

“As a winner, I was offered $5,000 (up to $50 per student) to be utilized for building ‘Strong Start Tool Kits’ for students to use as they work from home,” Bronson told the News Journal Wednesday. “For my juniors, I built kits that include small hand tools and a diagnostic code reader to allow students the ability to retrieve computer codes while working from home.

“Because my seniors study electrical systems, we put together a very robust kit for them to take home; each contains wire crimpers, strippers, a screwdriver set, a multimeter, test leads, and a connector set. We then supplemented the kits with an assortment of switches, 9-volt batteries, LED lights, fans, flashers, a horn, circuit boards, relays, etc.”

At Laurel Oaks, Bronson collaborated with fellow instructors Joe Jones (Construction) and Kelly Keeton (Career X) on the kits for their students to share.

“All in all about 150 students have benefited from the Strong Start Kits,” said Bronson.

Bronson said his program utilized only half of the donation, “and the people at Tools for Schools then allowed us to choose another program for the remainder.”

Like laboratory or other career courses, skilled trades classes can be particularly challenging to teach online because they require the use of tools not always available at home.

With more than one million students studying trades like construction, welding, manufacturing, automotive and electrical, take-home tools are one way to allow students to keep honing their hands-on skills even if their schools operate entirely or partially remotely.

Bronson’s tool kits, going to the 45 students in his program, included a tool bag, a seven-function digital multimeter, a six-piece screwdriver set, a seven inch wire stripper and cutter, a mini pick and hook set, and more.

“We have been humbled by the incredible ingenuity and resilience we’ve seen from skilled trades teachers and students during the pandemic,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “We’re providing these tool kits because we believe that skilled trades jobs are essential to our country, now more than ever, and that means skilled trades education is essential, too.”

As COVID-19 shuttered businesses across the country this year, skilled tradespeople, particularly those employed in public works and utilities, were deemed “essential” by many states.

“Our country is going to come out of this pandemic stronger — and skilled tradespeople and jobs will be essential to that recovery,” said Eric Smidt, founder of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “With many high school students preparing to enter a trade immediately after graduation, we want to make sure they can keep learning and growing their skills at home.”

The tool kits come courtesy of donated tools from Harbor Freight Tools, the nationwide tool retailer. Smidt, the founder and owner of the company, created the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools program in 2014. Today, the program is operated by The Smidt Foundation, established by Smidt in 2016.

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Laurel Oaks student Malachi Lowe of Lynchburg with items from the tool kits. Oaks student Malachi Lowe of Lynchburg with items from the tool kits. Submitted photo
Laurel Oaks students benefit from program

Submitted article

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