There’s something unique, and outright cool, about the Workshop School, a West Philadelphia public high school that approaches education from a project-based model.

“All students receive their own laptop and work with new technology,” explains the Workshop School’s Ann Cohen. “The school includes full automotive technology and collision shops as well as a Maker Lab where students use Sketch-up, CAD, laser cutters, 3D printers, CNC routers, and more to design and then bring their projects to life.”

City Council President Darrell Clarke and Mayor Jim Kenney listen to a presentation at the Workshop School.
City Council President Darrell Clarke and Mayor Jim Kenney listen to a presentation at the Workshop School.

Recently, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, City Council President Darrell Clarke, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, Sustainability Director Christine Knapp, Chief Education Officer Otis Hackney, and Deputy School Superintendent Chris Lehmann visited the Workshop School to learn about students’ project to promote solar energy in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.

9th grade student Jahfari Williams explains the project:

At the Workshop School,  we have been working on proving that solar panels can help Philadelphia in many ways. Doing this project taught us and others that solar energy is beneficial, it’s a great way for residents to save money and help the city at the same time.

Our project ties-in with the City’s initiative that was introduced by Council President Clarke that calls for a $1 billion investment in clean energy.

Mayor Kenney speaks with students at the Workshop School.

Completing this project was a very complex process that used skills we learned in various classes. First, we found the measurements of the roof of each of our houses and then calculated how many solar panels we could use, making sure to leave room for firefighters who might need access in case of an emergency.

Then, we designed the front and roof of our houses using a CAD program and printed the front and roof of our housesout using a laser cutter. After cutting out and putting the houses together, we did some math to figure out how much the solar panels would cost for each house and divided the total cost by how much each electricity bill would be using the energy average for Philadelphia, $98.55 per month.

On average each student would have to wait seven and a half years to pay off the panels. Though, when we put all our houses together in a “mock block” of solar homes, we realized forming a solar collective and buying the panels in bulk would cost less.

It would enable homeowners to pay them off quicker, too.

Finally, we worked on presentations we then made to local elected officials. We hope that the city will support solar energy, and we want to make sure that our neighborhoods are part of the city’s program for installing solar on homes.

We also hope the City will create more opportunities for teens and maybe even create programs that will train and prepare us for jobs such as solar electrician, panel installer, or building the solar panel itself!

Student projects prepare them to succeed in college, or for a career such as engineering or automotive technology.  Simon Hauger is the principal and one of co-founders of the Workshop School. The presentation to the City officials included a slideshow that was created and presented by 9th graders: Tahir Carter, Krista Frasier, Andres Flores-Dominguez, Dayshaun Gwynn, Ronnie Keochampa, Zyere Hamilton, and Khabir Brown.

The students’ advisors are Jared Lauterbach and Katrina Clark.