Construction Careers Academy plumbing teacher John Alvarez is a national winner in the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence awards. He receives $50,000 -- $35,000 for his school and $15,000 for himself.
Alvarez was one of 25 skilled trades teachers chosen nationwide for this award. In total, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is awarding $1.5 million in prizes and award ceremonies were held simultaneously across the country.
The presentation was a surprise to Alvarez who isn’t one to seek the limelight.
As a first-generation college student, he earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas at San Antonio and a State of Texas Master Plumbing License. As of just this year, he is the only master plumber teacher in San Antonio. He also has an inspector license and coaches several sports teams.
While in a plumbing apprenticeship, he discovered joy in troubleshooting, problem solving, and envisioning a successful final product while earning a healthy wage. It was a defining moment for Alvarez in transforming his negative perception of the trade into a determination to portray plumbing in a positive light.
“It's my passion to make a difference in the lives of students through teaching and shining light on plumbing, a trade that historically has been viewed as dirty work. I'm determined to show my students how it can be an opportunity for economic mobility and personal growth, which is something I learned firsthand while running my own business. Every day presents me with another chance to empower those around me by imparting the knowledge they wouldn't find anywhere else; seeing their success come full circle gives meaning to theirs and mine.”
Alvarez emphasizes hands-on learning in his program, beginning with his sophomores in Plumbing Tech I to his seniors in the Practicum in Construction Plumbing. His students learn how to design and install underground and above ground piping, sinks, toilets, showers, and water heaters. His shop includes real-life stations where students explore all three phases that make up a plumbing system. Students then apply their skills to projects like designing plumbing for the carpentry program’s tiny house builds, and they work in teams to interpret blueprints, select materials, and install fully functioning plumbing systems. Their work is permitted and inspected by the City of San Antonio, and students are able to showcase their skills and craftsmanship with family, friends, and the local community during the Tiny Home Showcase event. The houses are fully functional and ready for move-in, and the money raised from the showcase event is used to help fund the next year’s build.
Students also have the chance to earn their Tradesman Limited plumbing license upon graduation through a pathway approved by the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners, designed to help address the shortage of skilled and licensed plumbers in Texas. All students who complete the course will test for their license, which positions them to begin working immediately in well-paid positions. Alvarez believes that expanding plumbing training programs can provide young people with valuable skills, help address workforce shortages, fix negative stigmas, and ensure that communities have access to safe and reliable plumbing services.
Through both technical instruction and an emphasis on leadership and community, Alvarez strives to prepare his students to be responsible and contributing citizens. During a Texas winter storm, one of his sophomores fixed a burst pipe at her family’s home, assessing the situation, buying the parts, and completing the installation - and ensuring access to running water during a crucial time. A former student reflected that the most valuable lesson from the class was the importance of access to clean water, which stayed with them long after high school and helped them appreciate the privilege of living where clean water is readily available. These real-life experiences inspire Alvarez and make him proud to be training the next generation of plumbers.
“What I love most is seeing the transformation that takes place in my students. Witnessing their personal growth as they journey through the ups and downs, the pains and gains, of acquiring new skills and knowledge is a truly incredible experience. It fills me with pride and joy to see each student have their own unique "a-ha" moment when they finally fully understand how the lessons apply to their own lives - this connection to self is crucial to their success.”