Thursday, 12 November 2009 06:24

Typical Days

Typical Days

Tuesday November 10 was a regular West Philly Hybrid X Team meeting date. It was typical in many ways. I walked in the building at the end of the school day to hear the list of students who had detention being read over the loud speaker. Attendance at the meeting would be down or at best delayed.

A number of other Team members cruised through the shop on their way to credit recovery in the main building. Credit recovery does not refer to the financial crisis. It refers to going to class after school when you failed a class (or more) in the prior semester. More kids would be very late to the meeting.

Grades go in at the end of this week, so a few more kids remained upstairs working with their Spanish teacher to do the best that they can on their report cards. After all, we check report cards every quarter and poor performance effects who gets to travel with the Team. Check off a few more absentees.

We also had kids missing for illness, suspension and sibling duties. Somehow or the other we mustered a core group for the meeting. It was a good thing, because Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky was visiting to research a column she wrote about us that appears in today’s paper. Here’s the link: City high-school kids best MIT in $10M car contest.

Kids spoke to Ronnie about why they joined the Team and what they like about working on the cars. We got our picture taken. We finished writing a bunch of thank you notes and signing letters to supporters. Students who will be speaking at the National Superintendents Roundtable this weekend worked on their speeches.

We had nutritionally poor drinks and snacks.

Ron Preiss and Simon had a bunch of kids in the shop working of the hybrid drive for the Focus. This, too, is typical. The drive comes in and out of the car, gets taken apart and put back together, refined and refreshed all the time.

The missing team members returned from their various assignments and it was almost time to go.  We have much to do in our not so typical after school quest to win $10 million dollars. We’ll keep you posted.

Published in Blogs
Friday, 06 November 2009 19:07

Fast Car

Thursday November 5, 2009
Fast Car  

I started my day at my favorite spot, Metal Stock , a football field sized warehouse filled with every shape, size and type of metal you can imagine with the added endorphin releasing agents of burnt metal, dingy lighting and whirring machinery.  The first time I walked in to Metal Stock, it was a religious experience.  Today was no different, just a little better. After walking through the shop floor (how many OSHA regs did I violate on my journey?) I arrived at the office to pick up my order.  When the woman processing my order realized I was from West Philly High School, she stopped and looked up at me. “I saw you on the Today Show last week – you guys were amazing.” She continued to say things that made me feel really good. 

I didn’t think the day could get better. But it did. I made it to the shop, and began working with the kids on the hybrid drive.  Mr. DiLossi’s cousin dropped off a custom machined shaft for the drive – serendipitously just when we needed it.

We work on the X Prize cars almost every day after school, but Tuesdays are our regular meeting days. There was no school on Tuesday and Philadelphia Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky was slated to show up at 3PM so we scheduled a Team meeting.  The SEPTA strike kept the writer away, but the video reporter arrived. 

Just as the meeting started, the principal, and both vice principals came storming into the shop calling for me, “Hauger, Hauger”.  I got a sick feeling in my stomach – I just couldn’t figure out why I was in trouble.   Mrs. Cruz started saying good stuff – it took my brain a few seconds to make the adjustment and for the knots to loosen in my stomach.  She explained that musician Wyclef Jean was visiting the school and would like to meet the Team and see the car.  I told her that would be wonderful – the cars are right here.  She wanted us to show him the “pretty” one.  Of course, she meant the Hybrid Attack.  

The kids were ecstatic.  They pulled the Attack out and cleaned it up.  Then we worked on the X Prize cars until he showed up. Since I’m not a wordsmith – I’m an engineer by training –what followed would best be described as a triple integral over a Gaussian surface.  I know – that’s lame.  I’m sorry. We hung out with Wyclef. He’s an off-the-charts car buff -- has a McLaren F1, a doped-out Ferrari 360 Spider, a 1957 Cadillac Eldorado and a Spiderman custom chopper built by those Orange County guys.  An amazing conversation ensued.  It was way cool.  We shared trade secrets with his automotive engineer who’s building a super fast environmentally friendly car for Wyclef.  Maybe he’ll just buy ours.  We spoke to his manager – she would like to get us in a video.  And then my students started spittin’ rhymes; free stylin’.  For fifteen minutes they were all rapping with Wyclef.  You had to see it to believe it. 

I walked over to the garage door just to take it all in.  Justin Carter walked over and said “Haug, this is ridiculous.  This is the best day of my life.  Look – Wyclef is free stylin’ with Sekou in front of our car in our shop.”   I had this surreal feeling – I was fully expecting to wake up in my bed, roll over, and try to explain to my wife that I dreamt a famous rapper stopped by the shop, free styled with my students, wants to put us in his next video, I got to share our secrets with his personal car designer and the principal was being super nice to me.  And oh, yeah – a newspaper video person just happened to be there to capture it all on tape.  Crazy – huh? 

For us religious folks, these situations are kind-of confusing.  Serendipity feels more like divine intervention. 

I heard a man say Jesus walks
Me, myself, I heard Jesus talks
Cause when I heard his beat
I felt Jesus voice…

It was a fast car

Every day is like the wild wild west
Some of us are bad boys
Some of us are outlawed…

In the fast car
Jump in the fast car 

-- an excerpt from Wyclef Jean’s “Fast Car”

Published in Blogs
Thursday, 05 November 2009 21:33

High School she was that girl

I think Wyclef Jean should buy the K-1 Attack.  I think he should really buy it.  I think he should buy it, put us in one of his music videos, and possibly name a song after us.

Wyclef Jean came to West Philadelphia High School today to be a part of a service project with the Sixers and Timbaland.  The students who participated painted walls in the main building and some planted an urban garden.  It was amazing to see these students participate in a very high energetic service project organzied by Sam Foster and the Community Schools.  Little did we know that Wyclef was interested in seeing the Automotive building and the K-1 Attack.  He stayed with us for almost an hour.  He told us about his love for cars and his growing interest in green cars.

All of sudden, Karysma and Sekou were spittin' with Wyclef.  Amazing.  They were a force.  Karysma and Sekou were so creative and smooth.  Sekou even put Wyclef's name in his rap and then couldn't stop laughing.  I think Wyclef is the most gracious person.  He was at West for almost five hours.  Sekou and Karysma will always remember that moment.  Lucky for us, Momo and Daniel recorded it.

It was a great day.  I think once you take a step back and realize what has happened just this past month with the team and the program, one needs to take a nap.  I often do.

Did Tango meet up with Wyclef Jean today?  No.  It's a big deal.  I think the students are starting to realize that what we are doing is not just about putting a car that achieves over 100 mpg on the road.  It is about fostering an idea that any one can accomplish anything they want.  It is about education, bettering oneself, being a capable person, and growing in success.

In short, Wyclef needs to buy our car.  Everyone needs to buy Wyclef's new cd.  And call it a day.

Ride or die.

Ms. R

Published in Blogs
Saturday, 31 October 2009 18:49

Fall is in the Air

Fall is always a time of transition for the West Philly Hybrid X Team. Our seniors, who were Team leaders, have moved on.  Rameak Taylor is at Alvernia University, Anita Davidson is at George Washington University, Eric Yates is at Community College of Philadelphia, Marquis Garner is in City Year, Tyrone Walker is at the University of Pittsburgh, Titusville, Sakira Harris is working hard and getting ready to start college in January. Fortunately, our graduates don’t abandon us. We are always delighted when alums stop by. We’ve seen Lawrence Mahoney-Jones (Drexel), Samantha Wright (Clarion), Kenny Polk-Jones (City Year) and Anita Davidson recently.

September is also a time for new Team members. This year, we’re pleased to welcome a group of new students and teachers to our effort to win the Progressive Automotive X Prize.  Our first two new members are Darmell Bailey and Karysma Cambridge, both sophomores. Darmell worked with us this summer and Karysma joined at the first September meeting. We are also thrilled to welcome Mrs. Ruth Donnelly who transferred from Swenson to West Philly High to be our Career Tech Ed Specialist. We are extremely grateful to have Dr. Christian Onuoha heading up our efforts to showcase biodiesel and biobutanol.

More recently we have welcomed Curtis Henderson, Shanea Chellis, Wagui Ndiaye, Joseph Jones and Alexis Bland. Read more about them on our Team biographies page.

Published in Blogs
Thursday, 24 September 2009 01:00

Speech to the Congressional Black Caucus

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you today. It is an honor.

My name is Azeem Hill, and I am a member of the West Philly Hybrid X Team, a part of the West Philadelphia High School Automotive Academy. This is a wonderful after school program that I have been a part of since freshman year. I am now a junior and have been involved with the West Philly Hybrid X team for three years now. I am also a proud member of the Philadelphia Student Union which complements my involvement with the team because both organizations work towards building a solid educational portfolio.

Every Tuesday, I meet with Simon Hauger and Ann Cohen, directors of West Philly Hybrid. Awaiting us are exciting projects and announcements that most recently connect with our entry into the Progressive Automotive X Prize, an international competition to build cars that achieve 100 MPG.

We are the only high school competing in this world, in this world, for this multi-million dollar automotive competition for the green economy. We are competing against startup companies that have more money in their pockets than we do collectively. Our participation is no surprise to me because we are using an educational model that prompts and highlights every student’s unique strengths. This is called project-based-learning.

Years before I joined the team, this all started out as a science project that became cross circular within days.

I got my introduction to the team working with the K-1 Attack where we put a fierce hybrid engine in the body of a sports car. Being at West has its challenges and my classmates have complicated personal backgrounds, but being on this team ignores all of this and pulls together all of our strengths. That is the reason why the K-1 Attack even exists, because one of our former team members said, “Hey Hauger, these hybrid cars are decent, but why are they so ugly lookin’?” Eventually the world’s first hybrid supercar was born out of our garage in West Philly.

We won the Tour De Sol, the nation’s oldest alternative fuel vehicle competition, with our K-1 Attack. The K-1 has a carbon fiber body that is superlight but tough as steel. It goes from 0-60 in less than 4 seconds and it even gets over 60 miles to the gallon on bio-diesel. We were able to beat schools like MIT and Toyota and Honda entries because of our knowledge of hybrid technology and our understanding of consumer needs and wants. For us, this was just a precursor for all that we have waiting for us, especially with our participation in the X Prize competition. For the current team members, the K-1 was our first love, it was our first hope. It was a stepping stone to the X Prize.

The Progressive Automotive X-Prize is a $10 million international competition to build clean, super efficient vehicles intended for mass production. The X Prize foundation’s mission is to spur innovation through competition. Our mission is to win. When we win we will secure a place in the green economy for young urban people. But we’ll have more than jobs. Winning will show how young people have historically changed this country for the better. We have power. We’ve changed policy and now we’ll change industry.

Our two cars entries in the competition, the Ford Focus and Factory Five GT, will achieve over 100 MPG, emit less than 200 grams of carbon per mile into the air, and go from zero to 60 in under eight seconds. The mission of the X-Prize foundation is to benefit humanity and stem the effects of climate change through big competition. There were over 100 teams that entered in this $10 million contest. We know that after preliminary cuts, far less will remain. We are one of them. Five teams are invited to attend the launch party of the X Prize competition on October 19 in New York City. We are one of them.

We have an amazing and effective business plan to bring our cars to production in Philadelphia. Continuing education and use of green materials is the thesis for our marketing plan. People are talking about us. I guarantee you by the end of my speech, you will be talking about us, too.

Last year, the West Philly Hybrid X Team was rated number 10 in Popular Mechanics Magazine as being one of the teams that will most likely take home the big pot of cash in the competition. Since then we’ve gotten heaps of press. The team was in Natural History magazine, Rolling Stone, and American Way magazine. The team was featured by local news outlets dozens of times. Even after EPA Lisa Jackson visited our school, she felt it necessary to mention our accomplishments to high school students in North Carolina when she was there visiting. We even have a documentary being made about us. The documentary will focus more on the students’ lives than the hybrid cars.

The press and media coverage is amazing and sincerely appreciated, but none of that compares to the critical thinking and humanistic skills my peers and I are constantly learning.

This past summer the West Philly Hybrid X Team learned about the green economy and how to market an environmentally friendly car. We made podcasts to support our findings. We even made a mock party flyer to promote our cars. It was a blast. You can view this content on our website at

It’s been three years of studying , writing ,debating , and headaches and I am proud to say I’ve been involved with the X Prize from the very beginning. Now that I look back on my experiences, this thought comes to mind: If you were to go back in time and ask me three years ago when I was a freshman what I was doing with the team I would say “We are just building hybrid cars.” There wasn’t much depth to my understanding of hybrids or the green economy or even why we picked the batteries we picked. That was probably all I could tell you. Now after learning about the cars from my fellow teammates, doing work on the cars, and participating in a 15 page research document on electric vehicles, I internalized our mission from having amazing real life experiences with the team.

I was eager and excited to seek out new challenges. I liked the Philadelphia Student Union before I liked the team, but I learned both missions are intertwined and are solely about the progression of a student. They both help create students who can become part of the new global economy.

There is a missing link for whatever reason in the classroom about preparing myself for this so called global economy. Our districts are underfunded, and fifty percent of our freshmen drop out before they reach sophomore and junior year. Before I joined the student union I thought that it was okay for people to drop out if they don’t want to learn. But students are dropping out because their unique ways of thinking, working, and expressions are not being stimulated. They care about their education but even before they open a book, they are already failing.

With the team and with PSU, I never felt like a failure. I felt challenged and pushed, but both groups allow me to work my best and open my mind to the bigger picture.

This learning process was not a walk in the park. The EVX Team and the Philadelphia student union both believe that all young people can be leaders of tomorrow and sometimes that’s a lot of responsibility. Sometimes I am responsible for teaching another young person how something works. Sometimes I have to convince another young person that personal life and personal drama needs to be left behind for the welfare of the group’s progression. Sometimes I even have to let someone know that this is not like school when you can just not do something and get a bad grade. This is real life and you are making a real impact on the world and you are accountable for all of you actions and assignments you take upon yourself. Every step you decide to miss is an opportunity you’ve wasted not only for the team, but for yourself. I don’t want to miss any opportunities.

I know that you don’t want to miss any opportunities either. The opportunity awaiting you is the purchase of a brand new super cool, super efficient, created by students, built in Philadelphia 100 MPG car. When we win seize your opportunity and buy our car.

Published in Blogs
Page 2 of 2