Lesford Dixon, a carpentry teacher at Construction Careers Academy (CCA) in San Antonio, Texas, won a $50,000 prize for his teaching efforts through a national competition sponsored by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools.
He was one of 15 teachers to win second-place in the competition, which includes a $35,000 cash prize for each school’s skilled trades program and $15,000 for each teacher.
“I teach carpentry, which is not an easy field to master,” Dixon explains. “There are so many facets, nuances, and complex concepts that go into doing it right. There are practicing professionals, with decades of experience, that do not have the skills necessary to do a job the right way. At Construction Careers Academy, students master their crafts in only four years and walk the stage better qualified than much of the current workforce. I take great pride in being able to simplify these concepts into modules that students can understand and master in such a short timeframe.”
Dixon, who has worked in construction for 18 years in three countries, says he is most proud of building the carpentry program at CCA. Originally from Jamaica, he did not learn to read until he was 12-years-old.
Dixon argues that his high school students should not be working unskilled entry level jobs because of the training they receive. They work in a lab and in teams designing and building homes for 24 months. They also learn to design and manufacture customized furniture utilizing leftover wood. And CCA students also sell most of what they design and create.
Each spring, 25 students from a variety backgrounds graduate from Dixon’s program, with the skills and knowledge to earn a living wage in skilled trades fields. “The greatest part of teaching a skilled trade: being able to see the impact that my students make upon the world,” Dixon says. “Every profession has meaningful outputs, but there is something beautiful about driving by a house or an office building and knowing that it exists because of my students. It is the same pride that I felt as a tradesman when I completed a project but now amplified by the number of students whom I have trained.”
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. It states:
“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. Believing that access to quality skilled trades education gives high school students pathways to graduation, opportunity, good jobs and a workforce our country needs, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools aims to stimulate greater understanding, support and investment by public entities and others in skilled trades education.”
More than 550 people applied to the program from 49 states. The competition required three rounds of judging, each by an independent panel that included experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership. The field was narrowed to 52 semi-finalists, and ultimately, three first-place winners and 15 second-place winners, including Dixon.