Cory Torppa Harbor Freight prize

Kalama High School CTE Director & Teacher Cory Torppa has been named a Grand Prize recipient of the 2022 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. One of five Grand Prize recipients from across the country, Torppa won $100,000 for the Kalama High School Construction program.

The prize program was started in 2017 by Eric Smidt, the founder of national tool retailer Harbor Freight Tools, to recognize outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in U.S. public high schools and the teachers who inspire students to learn skills to prepare for life after graduation.

“I love teaching applied, hands-on subjects that all students can benefit from in their future,” Torppa wrote in his Tools for Schools application. “Not every student is going to attend a 4-year university and I think it is crucial to prepare students with skills to be successful when they leave high school. I want all my students to be successful whether they go directly into the workforce, community college, technical college, apprenticeship program, four-year college, or military.”

Torppa has been teaching high school skilled trades in Washington for 18 years. He currently teaches construction, engineering design, and manufacturing at Kalama High School, and works with the district’s CTE Advisory Committee to ensure the school’s curriculum aligns with future career pathways and job opportunities.

This year, Kalama High School is offering 26 dual-credit classes and eight industry-recognized credentials, up from four dual-credit classes just two years ago. As students advance through the program, they take on leadership roles such as mentoring beginning students and managing construction and manufacturing projects.

In his application, Torppa said that if selected as a winner, he would use the funds to purchase tools, equipment, training materials and supplies so that students can build a tiny home.

“I am excited to build a tiny house with our students,” Torppa said. “It would be a large capstone project that could be worked on by multiple courses and programs. For example, our Engineering and Science classes could research how to create an efficient tiny home; Construction students could build it; Manufacturing students could put together the railings and chassis; Woodworking students could create shelving, stairs and cabinetry; Art students could help with the interior/exterior design; and so on.  

“The project would allow me to teach more about the construction trades and better prepare Kalama students to work on their own homes in the future,” he added.

Eric Nerison, Kalama School District Superintendent, said Torppa is a great example of what it means to be invested in the success of others. 

"Over the years, Cory (Torppa) has worked to secure the necessary funding to provide Kalama students with innovative and engaging learning experiences," said Nerison. "He has written several successful grants and students have been the direct benefactors of his efforts. The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools prize is no exception, and I'm really excited about what this award means for Cory, our students and the community." 

In total, the 2022 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence drew 768 applicants.