TAYLORVILLE, Ill. (WCIA) – A Taylorville High School teacher received the surprise of a lifetime Tuesday when he was given a check for $50,000. 

“Whenever you do this, we know October is the month, so every day in October, you’re just waiting when this is going to happen [or]  if it’s going to happen,” Matt Blomquist, the recipient of the prize said.

Blomquist, the school’s Building Trades instructor, won the 2022 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. The national award recognizes public high school teachers for outstanding teaching in skilled trades. 

“Even for a program like this, it’s not gonna get used in one year,” Blomquist said. “This is something that’s gonna sustain us for a few years to come. So this is a good deal.”

Blomquist, teaches students how to build houses and other topics related to the industry called Intro to Industry. Once they complete the course, his students put their skills to the test, building homes, starting with its foundation.

Currently, students are working on the 28th house the program has worked on since 1969. Blomquist, who is in his sixth year teaching at Taylorville, said it takes the class about three semesters to finish a project.

“This year, we started with the outside pretty much done and a lot of its focus on the inside,” Blomquist said. “What will happen here is the students will finish the inside of the house. Like I said we’ll be finished somewhere … beginning midway through next semester, and then we’ll move to the next job site and they’ll start working on next house”

Some of the homes students recently worked on were impacted by a tornado that struck Taylorville in 2018. 

“They had to demo a house,” Matthew Hutchison, the high school’s principal, said. “Then we were able to build a new house right where that tornado had gone through that location in this one as well. So that’s kind of exciting, that we’re able to kind of revitalize where homes once stood, we are putting newer homes.”

Hutchison has known Blomquist since the teacher was a student at the school. 

“[Blomquist is] a great instructor, very thorough [and] safe,” Hutchison said. “The students learn an absolute abundance of information to build a house from start to finish, foundation to shingles. He does a great job.”

Some students that finished the program have gone on to work as certified welders or work in the Electrical Union and for local contractors. He’s even had employers from other states asking if his students want to relocate for work. 

“Even though you build a house, you’re not going to come out a master, but you’ll have a pretty good base knowledge and usually show up and be an asset on the jobsite,” Blomquist said.

Hutchison agrees, adding that the skills students learn in the classroom they will use in the real world. 

“We’re very fortunate that many will build homes here outside of this or if they’re not in the trades, they’re going to be able to fix their own home and do some things,” Hutchison said. “We’re actually giving them skills towards their future.”

Blomquist will receive $15,000 of the prize directly while $35,000 will go to the program.