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Profiling Teacher Simon Hauger

Aired July 1, 2012 - 14:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This car was built as a hybrid. We've raced it for the last three years. The secret of our success has been trusting kids to be able to solve really complex problems.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This way. You know what? This is going to get interesting.



DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE NEXT LIST. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. You might call Simon Hauger a revolutionary teacher. In a city with a high school drop-out rate hovering around 40 percent, he's inspiring kids to stay in school, showing them that there is a whole new way to learn math and science.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're building a hybrid car that gets over 100 miles per gallon, those are the skills that are just as important as the fundamental basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.


GUPTA: A decade ago, Simon started West Philly's Hybrid X Team. It's an after school program that achieved national fame for builing biodiesel and electric cars. Low-income high school kids beat out colleges in national competitions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm actually beat some pretty recognizable names. I won't embarrass them on camera, but some really well known colleges and universities in the engineering areas.


GUPTA: That success fuelled Simon's ultimate dream -- a school. He calls it the sustainability workshop, a place where inner city students spend their entire senior year solving real world problems. This is by no means your typical school. Of course, Simon Hauger is not your average teacher.


SIMON HAUGER, FOUNDER, HYBRID X TEAM/SUSTAINABILITY WORKSHOP: I was a really good math and science teacher. You know, I'd turn the strobe light on and do the break dance and get the kids excited, and then give them the test at the end of the week.

It is frustrating because it didn't stick and the fundamental shift that's happened this year is that the relationships that we're build region authentic and that to me is very exciting.

My name is Simon Hauger. I'm the founder of the Hybrid X Team and founder of the Sustainability Workshop. We have so many projects going on. We've got a group that did an electric go-cart. Looking at comparing gasoline vehicles to electric vehicles and what would a scale model look like.

We have a team doing biodiesel. When you look at a variety of ways of making this group of students decide to take on the challenge of replacing inefficient light bulbs, so they came up with this business plan, which is brilliant.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here you actually have to look at what is going on around you and discuss it with the teachers, have a proposal and make them interested about it.

My name is Alejandra Melean and I'm student at the Sustainability Workshop School. Simon is really different because he actually cares about your problems. He also really helped me with being more confident about my public speaking skills.

BRANDON FORD, STUDENT: When I joined the X Team, I became more interested in learning, not just about cars and sustainability, but about everything. And that opened my eyes to see that there's a bigger world out there.

HAUGER: We started off really small. I mean, I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I happened to be teaching math and science in this automotive vocational program in West Philly and they had a go-cart frame sitting in the shop.

A couple of my students and I thought about how can we turn this into a science fair project? What's kind of school about that story, kids from West Philly hadn't on won a science fair before. So then we built a full-size electric vehicle and they found a national competition called the "Tour De Sol."

So in 2000, we competed for the first time in this five-day road rally which, was from New York City to Washington, D.C. and we finished the race, which was really exciting. We were the first inner city high school to compete in that competition.

That car, "The Saturn" that we converted to all electric power we worked on for the next two years, refined it, and by 2002, we returned. It was getting over 180 miles per gallon equivalent and we won the race that year. We beat out 40 other teams, top universities. We like to brag that we beat MIT. We're really proud of that accomplishment. We are breaking stereotypes. As a young educator in 2002, I started to believe that my own hype -- like we can do anything.


GUPTA: Coming up a nod from the mayor.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It takes a lot to build a car. It is an innovative and exciting way of teaching what many of us learn literally just in a classroom out of a book.


GUPTA: And a shout out from the president.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: At first the adults didn't really think their kids had a chance. Admit it.


GUPTA: Simon Hauger in a real David and Goliath tale.



HAUGER: This is the space we use down at the Navy Yard for our shop. You can see we have three cars here. The thing I was excited about as an educator with academic outcomes. Here were students in an urban school that were solving real problems, designing real vehicles, building real vehicles and outperforming elite universities.

MIKE NUTTER, MAYOR, PHILADELPHIA: I've had a chance to actually be out with the young people. I've been at their garage. I'm Mike Nutter, mayor of the city of Philadelphia.

The Philly Hybrid X-Team, it is important because it gives these young people not only the academic support that they need but also the hands-on experience.

Simon and his team are doing a fantastic job working with these young people, inspiring them to stay in school, finish school and really see what can come out of hard work.

HAUGER: In 2002, when we won the "Tour De Sol" and beat these prestigious teams, the students came up with the idea that they wanted the next car they wanted to build was a really cool hybrid sports car.

Kids from West Philly dreamed up a sports car based on hybrid technology, which was really ahead of its time. This is a Ford Focus. We designed it on a $25,000 budget.

Our kids thought if we could build a car that was cost effective, safe, and got 100 miles per gallon, it would really say something especially if we used American-made technology.

So we used a Harley-Davidson engine as the drive engine, an electric motor from an American company, and developed a parallel hybrid.

So the second vehicle that we produced for the X-Prize is based on a factory five chasse. We had an electric drive in the front, a Volkswagen diesel engine in the rear running biodiesel and that really put us in position to be contenders in this $10 million Automotive X- Prize.

FORD: It is a $10 million competition to see who could get a car that could sustain 100 miles per gallon of fuel. We were the only high school in the competition full of major corporations that had millions of dollars.

I'm Brandon Ford and I'm student at the Sustainability Workshop School. I guess, the pinnacle of my accomplishments from working with the team was I was able to meet the president.

He was honoring us because we were one of the groups that had national recognition for teaching kids a lot of different things about science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Now, they didn't win the competition. They're kids. Come on. But they did build a car that got more than 65 miles per gallon. They went toe-to-toe with car companies and big-name universities.

HAUGER: The X-Prize, although we didn't win, still wasn't a failure because it was an incredible learning experience for the students. We held our own. We really showed the world what kids are capable of doing.

So we realize that we kind of stumbled on an educational approach, a school that really is centered on student relationships and providing students support to solve real world problems.

This year my friends and I started to think about -- dream it first, and sometimes it was just cathartic to get together over beers and say what would we do if we would re-imagine school, what would it look like?

MICHAEL CLAPPER, CO-FOUNDER, SUSTAINABILITY WORKSHOP: Rather than doing that in sort of 54-minute flocks, you want to create a space where can you do it each day, all day.

My name is Michael Clapper and I teach with Simon Hauger at the Sustainability Workshop. What Simon's able to do when you watch him with the students is allow them to make mistakes and then in really wise compassionate way point them in the right direction.

HAUGER: Our hope is to have a huge impact on public education in Philadelphia. Why would you get pushback when you're trying to do good work? That's a complicated question. I'll pass.

Believe it or not, it is easier to build cars that get over 100 miles per gallon than to start a school in Philadelphia. It's been a real challenge.


GUPTA: That might come as a surprise, but Simon didn't start out as a teacher. Up next -- a life changing decision.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He really felt called to teach or minister to the kids in the neighborhood he grew up in.


GUPTA: And -- juggling home life.


HAUGER: My wife teases me all the time that my mistress was the cars.




HAUGER: This is the block I grew up on. We moved to Philly when I was 6 years old, so it was 1976. We lived in this house here with a number of other families. It was kind of like a mini commune. I grew one my father and my younger brother.

My parents moved here together and shortly afterwards got divorced. My own personal story kind of follows the story of my students and while I didn't have some of the struggles that many of my students go through, it still wasn't a fully functioning home life and school didn't prepare me for thinking about what I really want to do with my future.

I joke that my senior year I went in to see my high school counselor and it was kind of like waterboarding. You had 15 minutes, if that. What do you want to be? I don't know what I want to be.

You're good at math and science. You should be an engineer. I'll be an engineer. I got a degree in engineering. It wasn't really my passion. And it kind at the same time, I was asking the big questions that are like college students do.

Like why are we here, is there a God and had a conversion. In many ways it freed me up to say well what do I want to do if kind of the end goal is not pleasing other people or having some status, what am I really interested in doing?

When I started asking myself those questions, I realized I liked teaching and I was really passionate about some of the injustices that I've seen an grew up in this the city. I felt lining that's where I wanted to try to make my mark and do some good.

So this is West Philadelphia High School. I think it was built in like 1904 or something like that. This is where I started my teaching career.

I entered education like most young idealistic teachers and just believed that all that was need is really good solid teachers that I could teach anybody anything and I was going to get all of my students prepared for college.

And it was tough because I was trading on a relationship that I developed with the students that this content that I'm teaching, algebra and geometry, is going to change your life. It's preparing you. Trust me.

You know, it is kind of like the karate kid, if you do enough wax on and wax off, you will be a black belt magically, right? And that's exhausting. Because there's some truth there, but some of it is not true.

What we discovered 13 years ago when we started this as an after- school program was that when kids are given real problems to solve, and are trusted to make real decisions, a ton of learning occurs.

As I work to develop a project based curriculum and move it into the school day, I wanted to see success we were having. I worked with folks in the district and we developed a project based curriculum and the bureaucracy just -- it was too much. It was too difficult to pull off.

What ended up compelling me to leave West Philadelphia High School is just all the challenges that I was facing as an educator and not having all the tools I need to really meet the students' needs.

We dreamed up this place, a school that really is centered on providing students support to solve real world problems.

CINDY HAUGER, WIFE OF SIMON HAUGER: That took a huge leap of faith for the family, for me because in terms of financial security, there was none. You know, what we're going to be able to do to pay the mortgage, food on the table.

My name is Cindy Hauger. I'm married to Simon and I also help out here at the Sustainability Workshop School. So last summer and when it started coming together at the 11th hour, it was me gathering desks and chairs and Simon himself physically renting new hauls and moving them.

SIMON HAUGER: Starting the school's been a lot of work. We've put in a lot of long hours. You know, it's always a balancing act. I don't want to miss these years with my children.

CINDY HAUGER: It was surreal because his dream was coming to fruition. Over 15 years at the school district, I always thought it was just talk. It's been astonishing sort of watching what he can do.

CLAPPER: I think that also flows from the incredible track record that Simon has with the EVX Team and at West Philadelphia High School. People look and say here's someone who's found his own resources, has worked with kids, and has taken on a real-world challenge.

SIMON HAUGER: For this pilot program, the Sustainability Workshop, we raise all of our own money privately. This DOE grant that's going on down at the Navy Yard -- the energy efficient building hub, was our first doorway into starting this school.

CHRISTINE KNAPP: Buildings aren't sexy and so by having sort of educational opportunities like this that make it exciting and fun, it helps create a whole new pipeline for people who want to get involved in making buildings more efficient.

My name is Christine Knapp. We help to fund the Sustainability Workshop. I've been extremely impressed with the amount of sort of real world development that they've done.

Creating a business plan around swapping out light bulbs is something that any entrepreneur with an MBA might be out there doing.

SIMON HAUGER: They are doing wonderful work. In many cases it is in spite of, instead of because of. We did a calculation. After spending 21 days here, we've spent the same amount of time with these students as a teacher has all year at a traditional school.

We pulled all of our students from the same high schools. They all have stories. They're facing more challenges than you'd want your own teenage child to ever have to face.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's definitely changed my life.


GUPTA: When we return, a morning commute that's been worth the sacrifice.



STEFAN GONZALES, SENIOR, SUSTAINABILITY WORKSHOP: I wake up at 6:15. I'm out the door precisely at 6:30. My name is Stefan Gonzales and I'm a senior at the Sustainability Workshop.

Sometimes I walk to the end of my block and catch the 13. If I miss it, I walk down and catch the 52 bus. It's definitely worth it, you know, worth the commute.

People my age can do a lot of things. Right now with the school district of Philadelphia, there really isn't any energy efficiency or urban sustainability courses worked into the school day.

I think besides the project-based learning we do here, I think that's the big difference. Every day is different here at the Sustainability Workshop.

SIMON HAUGER: Stefan, I have known since he was a ninth-grader. He behaves really different. He's a real leader. One of the ways that I know that I'm successful is that when I look at the students and the ways they've grown this year compared to the kind of growth I've seen in the more traditional approach to education is outstanding.

This has worked better than we imagined. One of the complaints about project based teaching is that we stand around and sing "Kumbaya" and all try to find our feelings. It's not that at all.

GONZALES: I would say at first it was a bit of a challenge because we weren't used to that much freedom. We constructed our own community. We don't have like a rule book or anything.

SIMON HAUGER: Many of them have read more books than they've ever read in their life. They've all written more this year than they've written in the past years. They've done real math. They've done real science.

The typical day is we have a half-an-hour morning meeting where we deal with community business. Just make sure you guys are staying on top of that.

We'll read a short passage on sustainability that Van Jones has written or we'll look at the initiative from the mayor's office around the green works projects.

Then typically from 8:30, 8:45 to somewhere around 11:00, we'll have project time. There's a very well thought out process that students walk through to develop a project, to conduct research, to formulate hypothesIS, to test them, and then to build solutions.

GONZALEZ: When we were in the X-Prize competition we were pretty good friend with the guy who owned the team so they decided to give us one of their bodies and chasses so we can build one of our own.

We are building it as an electric car. We need custom made axles. A car can't move without the axles. Me and Mr. Simon Hauger are working on that.

I really don't know where I would be if it wasn't for him. I have accomplished a lot of things since being here. For the most part, I have a wallet full of business cards.

This summer, I'll be interning for Septa, which is the local public transportation company in Philadelphia.

ALEJANDRA MELEAN, STUDENT: The first project I did that was hands-on was really great. It was a solar-panelled generator that you can actually connect the USB port from the cell phone and charge it. Just hit the switch.

The second one was the dream act one that we did. Four of us took on the challenge to make a curriculum for high school seniors to have as an elective for maybe next year if they pass it. And we actually wrote a three-minute speech and went in front of the School Reform Committee of Philadelphia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Doing this project we did a lot of research on sustainability.

GONZALEZ: Today was the first day of our final exhibition. We did a lot of projects so we're wrapping up the school year by doing what we call a final exhibition.

HAUGER: What was particularly exciting about these final exhibitions for me was their ability to stand up in front of a group of folks and present a body of knowledge. Then there's this development that kind of people they've become, the self-awareness they've developed.

GONZALEZ: I really appreciate how we built our own community because I've never in my life experienced anything like that.

HAUGER: You would think that he was a graduate student, his ability to get up and command a topic. It is a skill that I didn't have as a high school student.

MELEAN: You have to try to put your emotions aside and actually do the research and learn about what you're talking about so you can actually go out there and argue with facts behind you.

HAUGER: Alejandra has a really powerful story. If you look at her writing from the beginning of the year to now, she's come a long way.

MELEAN: The best thing I got out of spending it here was that I built a lot of confidence towards what I really want to do, which is to be a political science.

I thought I wasn't going to be able to come to college because since I'm an undocumented immigrant in this country. But in this school I realize that you really have to just go for it.

I'm not going to the highest colleges, but I'm going to start at Community College in Philadelphia.

GONZALEZ: We are an ambitious group of kids. We all have goals and we all know what we have to do to get there.

HAUGER: The first car that we built that got over 100 miles per gallon people said that was impossible for inner city kids to do that. I knew that we could do it.

To be able to compete in the international world stage for a $10 million prize and be taken seriously, people thought that that was impossible as well

But we're determined. What's next is to grow the Sustainability Workshop. First to a 9 through 12 school, and then we would like to see many schools in the city.

We're going to touch more children's lives and ultimately we're going to have an impact on urban education in Philadelphia.


GUPTA: Given Simon's track record with the Hybrid Team and workshop, that's not a long shot. Simon Hauger has an innovative approach to education, motivating kids to stay in school by encouraging them to solve complex real life problems. That's why he's here on THE NEXT LIST.

For more on Simon, check us out online, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. You can also log on to my live stream. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. We'll see you next week.