Dos Pueblos teacher honored for industrial arts instruction
Dos Pueblos High School teacher Chris Mollkoy recently won $50,000 in the 2020 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence competition.
The industrial arts instructor doesn’t care much for the attention, though.
He’s just happy working with tools and serving students.
“It’s always weird as a teacher winning an award and receiving compliments,” Mr. Mollkoy told the News-Press. “It’s hard to accept them.”
When he saw the finalists in the competition, he was shocked to be among them.
“These other 50 teachers are amazing, and they are doing such cool things with their kids and their programs,” said Mr. Mollkoy, who teaches construction technology, computer-aided design and drafting, and fine woodworking at his school in Goleta. “When I looked at that list, I thought I’d love to win, but I don’t think I’m going to.”
He almost didn’t apply to the contest when he saw past winners. Plus, he realized the application would take hours to complete.
But COVID-19 hit and freed up enough time for him to apply. It took him two weeks, but he started to enjoy the process.
When Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, called with the good news, Mr. Mollkoy was shocked.
“I couldn’t believe it. I was talking to Danny Corwin and said ‘Really? Are you serious?’ My brain couldn’t process it,” he said.
Humility aside, Mr. Mollkoy was excited to win.
“It just really made me so happy not just for me, but for the kids and the program and the school,” he said. “It showed that we’re doing something special here for the kids.”
Of the winnings, $35,000 is given to the program, and $15,000 is for the teacher’s personal use.
Mr. Mollkoy thinks he’ll take a vacation, but he’s more excited about the possibilities for his students.
“Spending money on the kids, I could do that so quickly. But trying to spend it on myself, that’s hard,” he said.
Mr. Mollkoy would like to expand the maker space at Dos Pueblos and buy more equipment such as 3D printers and laser engravers. He hopes to make it possible for more students to enroll in his classes.
His students’ largest project is the construction of a tiny home. It takes two years, but he likes teaching during the project because it involves all the elements that go into a home but on a small scale.
He noted this project is often students’ favorite too.
A former student studying civil engineering recently contacted Mr. Mollkoy and said the tiny house is the reason he went into the field.
A year ago, Mr. Mollkoy classes finished the first tiny house and donated it to Hope Refuge, a shelter that helps victims of sex trafficking.
Classes sometimes take on other projects that help the community.
After the Thomas Fire in 2017, his students made trail signs to replace those that burned down. They showed initiative in designing and painting the new signs.
“The kids are so creative, and the critical thinking and problem solving is so cool to see,” Mr. Mollkoy said. “I learn and grow from them all the time.”
He loves the environment of the workshop, even though it’s noisy.
When he first became a teacher, he taught English and coached wrestling. He left the field to work as a carpenter and eventually came back to the classroom — but with his newfound construction chops this time.
Mr. Mollkoy said he fell in love with it right away.
“I wake up every day, and I’m smiling. I can’t believe I get to go into the workshop every day and spend all day playing with tools,” he said.
It’s a job he’d do for free, he said.
And $50,000 can’t hurt either.