Editor's note: Simon Hauger started Philadelphia's "Sustainability Workshop," a program for inner-city high school seniors that's organized around projects rather than traditional curriculum. Students build electric go-karts and solar charging stations. Hauger will be featured on CNN's "The Next List" this Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.
By The Next List Staff, CNN
(CNN) – Some call Philadelphia educator Simon Hauger a “revolutionary teacher,” but his students say he’s just “a really, cool guy.” He’s an engineer turned public high school teacher who is inspiring kids to stay in school by offering an innovative approach to learning. “Students need to be engaged in solving real life problems. What we discovered was that when kids are trusted to make real decisions, a ton of learning occurs,” says Hauger, who is 42.
Hauger’s passion was fueled by the highly successful "Hybrid X Team" he formed at West Philadelphia High School thirteen years ago. In this after-school program, inner-city students built hybrid, bio-diesel and electric cars that have won multiple national competitions, beating out cars from prestigious universities like MIT.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter is a huge fan of the hybrid team and Hauger. “It gives these young people not only the academic support that they need, but also the hands on experience, which keeps them interested in school,” says Nutter, who took one of the hybrids for a test drive. The team’s most recent accomplishment, an EVX GT sports car for the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE, earned the group an invitation to the White House.
Fueled by the success of the Hybrid X team, Hauger co-founded The Sustainability Workshop, a full-day program comprised of 27 seniors from three Philadelphia inner-city high schools. The school follows the “project based learning” model, where days are organized around projects instead of class lectures. Students build electric go-karts, solar charging stations, and design energy-efficiency business plans. Hauger says the kids are more engaged, so they learn deeply and retain knowledge longer. One 18-year old student, Stefon Gonzalez, says having options when he graduates is the best part of the Workshop program.
“I now have a wallet full of business cards," he said. "This summer, I’ll be interning for SEPTA, which is the local public transportation company in Philadelphia. I don't know where I'd be if it wasn't for Mr. Hauger."
Hauger says his own personal story is similar to that of many of his students' and he launched the school because of his frustration with public school education.
“Somewhere around 40% of the students are dropping out and as a teacher, that’s not sustainable," he said.
The Workshop school raised their money privately, with a Department of Energy grant enabling them to open the school this year, and continue onto next. Hauger’s dream is to expand the Workshop into a publicly funded charter school by 2013.
“We’re going to touch more children’s lives," he said, "And, ultimately, we’re going to have an impact on urban education in Philadelphia.”