PIQUA — An Upper Valley Career Center electrical trades instructor, who at times taught students from the parking lot during the COVID-19 pandemic, was one of three national grand prize winners of $100,000 for their teaching this week.
Instructor Jeff Bertke won the Harbor Freight Tools For Schools prize for teaching excellence, and the money will go to the career center’s skilled trades program.
Bertke was surprised with the award presentation in his class area Thursday at UVCC, where he was a student in the same trades program before his high school graduation in 1999.
Jeff Bertke, electrical trades teacher at Upper Valley Career Center in Piqua, was one of three national winners of Harbor Freight's $100,000 prize for excellence in teaching in 2021. Contributed photo from Trittschuh Photography
Bertke has been a teacher at the school for 11 years. After graduation and six years of industry experience, he was placed in charge of teaching apprentices at his place of work. That experience came in handy when he was approached about any interest in teaching by his former high school instructor.
“High school skilled trades teachers and their programs are an essential part of addressing the skilled trades worker shortage,’’ said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “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.’’
More than 700 applications for the program were received from 49 states, Harbor Freight said.
The program described Bertke’s efforts as follows: “Despite complications this past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bertke persisted by including electrical simulators, online occupational safety and health, and employability skills training and Cengage electrical curriculum to keep his students on track. He even taught students in-person from the school parking lot at times, maintaining distance and proctoring tests from his car.”
Twenty out of Bertke’s 23 seniors qualified for a pre-apprenticeship through the Ohio Apprenticeship Council. This means they can get their journeyman credential a year ahead of others around the state.
Jeff Bertke, electrical trades teacher at Upper Valley Career Center in Piqua, was one of three national winners of Harbor Freight's $100,000 prize for excellence in teaching in 2021.
The remaining three seniors qualified for other placement opportunities in electrical supply and maintenance. Bertke’s program is one of three in the school that fill within the first 24 hours of availability and has a waiting list.
Bertke said he filled out the Harbor Freight application because his students “do awesome things.”
“By getting this recognition, that brings the spotlight to what you guys are doing. It is not about me. It is about what we do as a group,” Bertke said to his students. “I really love what I do. When I get in the classroom, I don’t feel like it’s work. I am here because I get to help support you guys … When you guys are putting in your best effort, you are helping me be the best I can be.”
Bertke thanked his students, past students, vendors and business partners for their support and contributions to the program’s success.
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