From a field of nearly 700 applicants, Enumclaw High School’s Bob Kilmer emerged as one of just three winners in the inaugural Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.
As a result, Kilmer and Enumclaw High will split a $100,000 prize. The school will receive $70,000 to support its “skilled trades” programs while Kilmer gets $30,000 to use at his discretion.
Kilmer explained that the application process was time consuming and winning was “definitely a surprise.”
“It was a pretty long process,” he said, noting that he heard of the Harbor Freight contest last spring. It was brought to his attention by Diane Schneider, a secretary in the school’s Career and Technical Education program.
Kilmer teaches classes falling under the CTE umbrella. It’s what used to be called “vocational,” he said, explaining that CTE offerings at Enumclaw High include everything from welding to the culinary arts, from automotive classes to agriculture – and much more.
Kilmer teaches construction, architecture, woodworking and computer-aided design, while also serving as an instructional technology coach for the Enumclaw School District.
“Making hands-on learning come alive for kids in our architecture and construction program is my passion,” Kilmer wrote in his application for the Harbor Freight prize. “There is nothing more rewarding than creating enthusiasm for the industry and passing on the knowledge, skills and experiences that empower kids to get involved in the trades, the same way my grandfather, uncles, parents and teachers did for me.
“I think I have one of the most important and best jobs in the world.”
Kilmer grew up around tradesmen. His parents owned a bakery and restaurant, his uncle owned a body shop and his grandfather owned a construction company, where Kilmer began working as a seventh-grader.
He has turned that background into a 32-year career teaching young people.
Kilmer encourages his students to explore their interests and create a work-based learning project based on those interests. He then helps set up internships, job shadows, mentoring and work experiences for his students in the construction and manufacturing industries in the greater Seattle area. He is also working to increase the representation of females in the skilled trades.
“When you witness the moment a student really starts to put to work the knowledge and skills they have learned inside the classroom to solve a problem or meet a need in the adult world, it is humbling to think that you may have just changed that person’s life for the better,” Kilmer wrote.
“It becomes extra special when a student’s interest and passion begins to blossom; they begin to see how subjects are connected and they focus on being great at something they love. The icing on the cake comes when they start giving back by passing on what they have learned to others.”
Students taking Kilmer’s architecture and construction class are currently building a tiny house for a local family in need. After they build the 162-square-foot home, Kilmer’s class will partner with one of the high school’s welding classes to build the trailer to transport the house. To further collaborate with neighboring students, a math class at Interlake High School in Bellevue will design the solar panels for the project.
In previous years, Kilmer’s students have designed custom houses, built storage buildings, garages, gazebos and a local fire station.
The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence awarded $510,000 to the three first-place winners and seven second-place winners. Harbor Freight Tools made additional donations totaling $44,000 to 44 semi-finalists.
Aside from Kilmer, first-place winners were Brendan Malone, who teaches marine systems technology at Urban Assembly New York Harbor School in Brooklyn, and Jonathan Schwartz, who teaches advanced manufacturing at Colfax High School in Placer County, California.
This inaugural prize competition drew nearly 700 applicants from 48 states and the field was narrowed to 54 semi-finalists, then 10 finalists and then the three first-place winners.