By Heather Graves
SEYMOUR – Industrial Technology Teacher Staci Sievert entered Seymour High School’s Library Media Center Oct. 21 just like any other recent faculty meeting, ready for Principal Tom Mueller’s COVID-19 update.
Little did the near 30-year teaching veteran know she was in for a serious surprise.
Mueller and dozens of district staff members surprised Sievert with a check – large in both size and monetary value.
She was one of just 18 recipients nationwide selected to receive $50,000 through the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.
“We all know what a terrific teacher Staci Sievert is,” Mueller said.
Sievert said she already has plans for the $35,000 earmarked for the district.
“I’ve got plans for this money already,” she said. “There is a vision for that $35,000, and we are going to take our kids to creating the plan for where they should be after high school. We need to have them have a goal for where they’re going.”
She personally receives the remaining $15,000.
Sievert spent the first 22 years of her teaching career as a high school social studies teacher.
When Seymour struggled with staffing issues in its technical education department for multiple years, she volunteered to return to school and be retrained as a tech ed instructor.
With the district’s support, Sievert took classes at Fox Valley Technical College in manufacturing, welding, woodworking and machining, while at the same time continuing to teach social studies.
“Four, five years ago, I couldn’t have done this,” she said. “I couldn’t have cut my thumb in the shop because I didn’t know how to run anything to do it. I took a ton of classes. It was really (Superintendent) Laurie (Asher) and Tom allowing me to be crazy to do that schedule, because you just have to let me be crazy and do it. It was a collaboration all along the way.”
With Sievert’s curriculum revisions and the creation of the Thunder Manufacturing class, which connects students with real customer needs, the district has seen a 52% increase in tech ed enrollment.
“More students are earning industry certifications than ever before,” she said.
Sievert said students are also using the skills they’ve learned in class to help the community.
Students built a camera stand for virtual School Board meetings, fixed broken shelves in the office, designed and crafted an oak sign for a local garden, built 16 corn hole boards for the school’s physical education department and exercise equipment for a local athletic trainer.
She said problem-solving in the shop is a way of life.
“I feel close to my dad when I’m in the shop,” Sievert said. “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.’ I am invigorated by the challenge of teaching teenagers how to use and respect equipment while being hands-on, minds-on.”
The district was also awarded a 2021 U.S. General Mechanics series cart to use in its tech ed classes.
Tools for Schools
Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, said the mission of the prize program is to increase understanding, support and investment in skilled trades education in public high schools.
“High school skilled trades teachers and their programs are an essential part of addressing the skilled trades worker shortage,” Corwin said. “These dedicated educators make a huge difference in the lives of young people every day, setting them on a course for a meaningful career and to make a difference in their community.”
Launched in 2017 by Harbor Freight Tools Founder Eric Smidt, the Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence program has awarded more than $1 million annually to 18 skilled-trade teachers and programs in U.S. public high schools.
This year’s prizes drew more than 700 applications from 49 states.
Winners were chosen following three rounds of judging – each by an independent panel of experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership.
Freedom High School Tech Ed Instructor Jay Abitz was also selected as a $50,000 prize winner.
The remaining 43 finalists, not selected as prize winners received a $1,000 gift card to Harbor Freight Tools.