PRHS teacher earns national award

Paso Robles High School teacher Justin Pickard receives a $50,000 check for his agriculture mechanics program from the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools program on Nov. 15. (Photo contributed)

Justin Pickard receives $50K for agriculture mechanics program

PASO ROBLES — Paso Robles High School teacher Justin Pickard was surprised to learn his agriculture mechanics program had received $50,000 from the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools program.

He was the only teacher from California to win the national skilled trades teaching prize. Fifteen teachers across the nation each received $50,000 second-place prizes. Three teachers were awarded $100,000 to $70,000 for their programs and $30,000 personally.

Pickard was awarded the ceremonial jumbo check along with a large rolling tool box on Nov. 15 at the high school. The 2018 prize drew more than 550 applications from 49 states. More than $1 million in prizes was awarded.

“Being a trades teacher is a critical need as our economy and workforce continue to change and evolve,” Pickhard said. “Not only does the United States need skilled workers in trades-related occupations such as welding, but we also have a need for people in the workforce to possess work-related ‘soft skills’ that sometimes are not tied directly to the content areas taught, but are very much in demand by industry employers.”

For nine years, Pickard has taught welding and agriculture mechanics at Paso Robles High School in Paso Robles. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from California State University, Chico, where he earned a bachelor’s in Agriculture and single subject and agriculture specialist credentials.

Previously a student mechanic at the Chico State Farm Repair Shop, Pickard also worked as a fabricator for the CSU Chico Research Foundation. He uses his industry experience to help his students successfully develop, plan, budget, fabricate, finish and market fabrication projects, each of them 100% student driven.

His students work from their own ideas, turn that idea into a written, well-structured plan and budget, and then execute in the welding and fabrication shop. These student-created projects are marketed for sale at the California Mid State Fair Industrial Arts Auction or are entered into regional and national competitions where they have won several honors.

What Pickard said he loves most about teaching is seeing his students develop through the years from the initial excitement of wanting to take their first oxygen-acetylene cutting assignment home to the sense of pride from a first-place finish at a local fair for their industrial education project.

Pickard not only engages his students in project fabrication, he also emphasizes the development of their “soft skills,” such as dependability, arriving on time and prioritization. His teaching approach is based upon having high expectations of excellence in academics and behavior, with emphasis on engendering pride, preparation, respect, integrity, determination, and engagement in all aspects of learning and doing.

Pickard seeks to be a role model in challenging negative perceptions about the skilled trades and to be a vocal champion of the importance and vitality of skilled trades education. He is working locally to elevate the importance of the skilled trades as sector and the good jobs offered by working with the local community college, expanding his curriculum so students can be college-ready, and assisting community members with welding projects or repairs, including creating a barbecue trailer for a wine company valued at $10,000.

A Future Farmers of America and SkillsUSA adviser, he has coached the high school’s teams to numerous honors and championships since 2009, including an FFA California State Championship in 2017 and 15 SkillsUSA California State Champions.

“As students move through my program, the freedom to create based upon those initial skills is increased all while emphasizing the importance of safety in the shop,” Pickard said. “By the time a student is enrolled in my fabrication course, the philosophy has moved completely into ‘student-designed learning.’ My famous statement to these classes is: ‘There isn’t another program on campus where you get to tell the teacher what you are going to be graded on.’”

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