Four years ago, Stefon Gonzalez was a freshman at West Philly High School.
Like others interested in working with his hands at the school since the late 1990s, Gonzalez joined the Hybrid X Team, an after school program that grew national fame for building electric and bio-diesel cars that outperformed college-level teams. Now Gonzalez is finishing his high school career at an experimental, project-based program at the Navy Yard.
This fall, the Hybrid X group, started by West Philly High teacher Simon Hauger, has launched the Workshop School, which embodies the science-driven, hands-on learning of the after school program but expands it to a full school day. Featuring 29 seniors from three different public high schools, Hauger’s effort is housed in a Victorian building overlooking hulking ships at the Navy Yard.
When Technically Philly visited on a cool, bright November morning, the students were in a half dozen groups, working through different assignments as part of a project to build a solar-powered workshop on the building’s front lawn. One team was charged with financing its construction, another with design and building materials, another with site planning, another with permitting. The school, which was also developed by Hauger’s former West Philly High colleagues Michael Clapper, C. Aiden Downey and Matthew Riggan, and has been a concept in their minds for more than a decade.
Discussions and projects drive the curriculum, and hands-on action trumps much else.
The school is funded in part by a grant from the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster and endorsed by the School District, which is administering the school’s lunch program, said board member Ann Cohen.
Below, watch a short video documentary.