WILMINGTON — Friday was not just another day for a local school and one of its instructors.
It’s a day that started off with quite a surprise — actually, you could say 100,000 surprises.
Laurel Oaks Career Campus industrial diesel mechanics teacher Gary Bronson — whose students are building mobility scooters, repairing large boats and jet skis and working on an International ProStar truck — was surprised with the news his school won $100,000 as one of three first-place winners of the 2018 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.
The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence recognizes outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in U.S. public high schools. The 2018 prize drew more than 550 applications from 49 states.
“It’s unbelievable. It will be great to have these funds to do projects,” Bronson said.
One possible project, he said, is to buy a heavy truck and have the students overhaul it and make it a show truck, said Bronson.
A representative of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, Tae Kang, made a surprise visit to Laurel Oaks Friday — postponed from Thursday due to the ice storm — to present a large rolling tool box and the ceremonial oversized check to Mr. Bronson, of Mt. Orab.
Also attending were Kevin Abt, dean of instruction, Laurel Oaks Career Campus, and Harry Snyder, president and CEO, Great Oaks Career Campuses.
“We’re excited that Gary Bronson is being honored,” said Snyder. “Gary is an outstanding instructor who is constantly looking for ways to improve his students’ experience and education, and this award will help him do that.”
According to Snyder, a key to Bronson’s teaching excellence is his relationships with the students.
Bronson has taught industrial diesel mechanics at Laurel Oaks Career Campus for seven years after working as a professional diesel technician and mechanic for nearly two decades, inspired by the engines and automotive classes he took in high school.
In Bronson’s lab, students use basic electrical principles to tackle projects like building mobility scooters and repairing large boats and jet skis. His student teams start with shop safety and procedures and advance to overhauling engines.
“I always try to post success stories of students to draw interest from the outside and promote my program,” Bronson wrote in his prize application. “I also post job openings and pictures of field trips and projects. This gives students much-needed recognition.”
In one of the most complex projects in his classroom, Bronson’s students work on an International ProStar truck, replacing the brakes, wiring the lighting and completing its annual inspection.
Under Bronson’s leadership, the truck has become a project for other skilled trades students at Laurel Oaks, as they work together to debut the truck at the Cavalcade of Customs auto show in Cincinnati.
This is one of many field trips to Cincinnati he takes students on each year. Bronson actively engages his advisory board to be part of these trips as providers of donations, tours, and future job shadowing and employment.
To keep the classroom humming, Bronson utilizes competitions, including trivia and student prizes, to recognize student learning, collaboration and success and to communicate this honor to families and the larger community.
“Being a former vocational student, I know the lifelong impact a vocational education can have on a student,” Bronson said. “I enjoy being able to give back to my students in and out of school.”
He also said he tries to provide “a rounded view of working on heavy trucks,” including preventive maintenance.
“The creativity and hands-on projects that Mr. Bronson and the other winning teachers bring to their classrooms is an inspiration,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “This is education at its best, and we are humbled to honor these teachers and shine a light on excellence in skilled trades education.”
More on the program
The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence was designed to recognize outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in U.S. public high schools that inspires students to learn a trade that prepares them for a career after high school.
More than $1 million in prizes will be awarded altogether this year.
Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is a program of The Smidt Foundation, established by Harbor Freight Tools founder Eric Smidt, to support the advancement of skilled trades education in America. With a deep respect for the dignity of these fields and for the intelligence and creativity of people who work with their hands, this program was created to foster and shine a light on excellence in skilled trades education in public high schools.
For more information, please visit harborfreighttoolsforschools.org .