As you may have heard by now, the West Philly Hybrid X Team’s journey in the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE came to an end. Friday was a difficult day – the fuel economy numbers came in and we were 1.9 MPG shy of the requirement. We had encountered some serious charging problems and the evacuation of the charging tent due to a tornado didn’t help our situation so, like several teams, we filed an appeal. Friday was an emotional rollercoaster.
Today, NASA’s chief Rocket Scientist, Dr. Bobby Braun, visited our shop. Even as I write this it is difficult to grasp. I keep waiting to wake up from this X Prize Dream I seem to be trapped in.
U. S. Congressman Chaka Fattah arranged for Dr. Braun to come to school and meet with the Team. The chief technologist for NASA wanted to see what we were doing.
Our students delivered powerful speeches about hybrid technology, the need for green jobs, what it means to be a student in West Philly, and what real educational reform looks like. The adults, as usual, listened with pride.
Congressman Fattah, State Representative Roebuck and Dr. Braun spoke to all of us and spent another hour answering our questions and taking a close look at our technology. It was incredible.
Over the last two years, we’ve had some amazing visitors including a United States Senator, a Congressman, a world famous musician, and a member of President Obama’s cabinet. Each visit has been as inspirational as it is inconceivable. We sometimes wonder if the kids understand just how big a deal our work is. While what we’re doing isn’t rocket science, it is real and important work for students and adults, alike.
When other people – brilliant, powerful or influential – validate what we’re doing, it should send a wake-up call to the rest of the country. We think the message is clear – when you give young people the opportunity and space to do real work, wonderful things can happen.
Scroll down to see video of Dr. Braun and to read Ronnie Polaneczky's column in today's Philadelphia Daily News.
Thursday November 5, 2009
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”