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CCIC teacher is one of three in the U.S. to receive prestigious prize

Brian Manley approaches his job as an automotive technology teacher at the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus with an eye for possibility and potential.

“I’ve always seen this campus as an incubator for ‘what ifs,’” Manely said of the CCIC, which opened its doors in 2019 with the mission of connecting students with top-notch, state-of-the-art training in specific industry pathways, including automotive technology. “When I was their age, I discovered auto tech, and I felt like I had self-worth. I know the power that this place can have, and I want to make that real for all of my students.”

Manley’s dedication and investment has made the automotive technology program one of the academic cornerstones of the CCIC over the past year, and his skill in fostering enthusiasm and engagement in his students hasn’t gone unnoticed.

This week, Manley was one of only three teachers in the country to receive the grand prize in Harbor Freight’s Tools for Schools competition. The philanthropic program seeks to advance skilled trades education by recognizing those who make it possible: the nation’s best teachers. Since it kicked off in 2014, the Tools for Schools program, operated through the Eric Smidt Family Foundation, has awarded more than $3 million through its prizes for teaching excellence.

This year, Manley beat out approximately 600 applicants; among the 70 winners from 30 states across the U.S., Manley was one of only three to receive the top prize: $100,000. Of that total, $70,000 will go to the CCIC, while $30,000 will go directly to Manley.

Manley learned of his award during a surprise ceremony held at the CCIC on Oct. 14. Representatives from Harbor Freight joined CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried, CCIC Principal Mark Morgan (who tuned into the ceremony remotely), a pair of students enrolled in the school’s automotive tech program and others to reveal Manley’s award and offer a ceremonial check. The fact that the visit occurred during Fall Break didn’t stop Manley’s colleagues, friends and students from celebrating his accomplishments in the school’s state-of-the-art garage.

Brian Manley with a student at the CCIC. “What makes this campus work is its great teachers, and Brian, you are a great teacher,” Siegfried said. “You’re one of three teachers in the country to receive this award, and you’ve definitely earned it … You’ve helped us realized our district’s broader mission: to prepare our students for their own pathways of purpose.”

Two of those students were on hand to speak to just how effective Manley has been in helping them realize their dreams. Kalvin To and Taylar Oden both spoke to Manley’s hands-on approach as a teacher and a mentor; both pointed to how Manley makes theory come alive in the classroom.

“He is such a great teacher. He doesn’t treat me differently because I’m a female enrolled in auto tech classes; I feel wanted and valued here,” Oden said. “He’s helped me find my passion.”

To said Manley’s guidance has helped him discover a pathway that could very likely persist into a professional career.

“One thing he’s taught us is that it’s more about the experience than the curriculum,” To said. “He shows that he cares as a teacher. I’m more of a hands-on learner, and he helps me understand the processes behind the technology.”

Manley, who was the first teacher in Colorado to receive the biggest prize in Harbor Freight’s Tools for Schools program, was at a loss for words as he accepted the praise, the congratulations and the prize money. He spoke about the value the funds will have for the students, pointing to the Nascar vehicle that serves as one of the centerpieces of the school’s auto garage. They’ll now be able to invest in the car and provide students with even more detailed and up-to-date curriculum, he added.

“I was really hoping for this money for the school. This will give our students even more latitude to explore and grow,” he said. “It really means a lot.”

 Posted 10/15 at 11 AM