As an after school coordinator at West Philly High in the late 90s, Matthew Riggan became increasingly frustrated by what he saw as the basic inability for the school to meet his students’ needs. Year after year, he saw students from broken down neighborhoods try to learn in classroom settings that were not designed for the world we live in today. And he saw that it wasn’t working.
What did work? One after school program, Philly Hybrid X, run by electrical engineer-turned-teacher Simon Hauger, who consistently led his group of West Philly students to the top tier of hybrid car competitions nationwide. Hauger and Riggan—along with teachers Michael Clapper and C. Aiden Downey—saw the students transformed by the experience.
In 2013, Riggan and the others took the lessons of that program and formed the Workshop School, which this year has 91 students in grades 9 to 12. The school’s project-based curriculum splits the day in two: Traditional English and math classes make up about one-third of the day; the rest is spent working on projects that solve real-world problems. Hauger’s Hybrid X team is at the school, along with other automotive instructors. Other students have designed easily-transportable emergency housing kits, pedestrian-friendly lighting for 52nd Street and a music studio.
The Workshop School is like others in the city that focus on project-based learning—most notably, Science Leadership Academy, a city magnet school. But it is a lottery-based general admission high school, open to everyone, whose focus is not just on getting kids into college—indeed not all will attend college—but in teaching them to succeed in life.
“It produces the kind of citizens, the kind of human beings, and the kind of scholars we want for the rest of the world,” says Clapper.
Watch this video from documentary filmmaker Lauren Flick to learn more about the Workshop School.
Header photo via Flickr.