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Local teacher wins 2020 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence

Shawn Burns was one of this year's 18 prize winners.
Shawn Burns was one of this year's 18 prize winners.(Harbor Freight Tools)
Published: Oct. 15, 2020 at 10:37 AM EDT
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SALEM, Va. (WDBJ) - One local teacher has been recognized for his excellence and will receive a reward.

Shawn Burns, who teaches mechatronics and robotics at Burton Center for Arts and Technology in Salem, was named a winner of the 2020 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.

Of the $50,000 reward, $35,000 will go toward the school’s skilled trades program and $15,000 will go to Burns personally.

Burns is one of 18 teachers nationwide to win part of the $1 million prize. Fourteen others received $50,000 and three grand prize winners received $100,000.

“This year has been one of the toughest on record for skilled trades teachers as they switch between in-person, remote or blended learning—all while trying to do their life’s work of preparing the next generation of tradespeople,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “At a time when tradespeople are more essential than ever, so is trades education. We are honored and grateful to have the chance to shine a spotlight on these teachers' amazing work.”

The annual prize was started in 2017 by Eric Smidt, the founder of Harbor Freight Tools, “to recognize outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in public schools and the teachers who inspire students to learn skills to prepare for life after graduation.”

“Trades teachers are educating and developing the tradespeople of the future,” Smidt said. “Many of the students in their classes today will become—as soon as next spring—the workers who keep our critical care infrastructure, our communication networks, our homes and cars up and running. The prize is our way of saying thank you to their teachers.”

Burns earned his bachelor’s degree in workforce education and a graduate degree in occupational technical studies after serving as a Navy machinist for 25 years. His high-school students use project-based learning to design, prototype and manufacture products, while also learning collaboration and communication skills.

Students can also earn college credit toward a mechatronics certificate of a two-year degree and earn their National Institute for Metalworking Skills credentials.

Burns' students have participated in apprenticeship programs for the past two years, working at three local manufacturing companies where they earned credits and made up to $13 an hour.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early spring, Burns received a grant that allowed him to teach students remotely in the coming year, and despite schools closures, he made sure his students received their certifications.

This year’s prize drew more than 600 applications from 48 states. For a list of all 18 winners and finalists, click here.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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