This is a story of two dinners.
One evening about nine years ago, Simon, Mike, Aiden and I met up at a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown. We’d become friends over the previous five years, working in various capacities at West Philly High. Somewhere in the midst of swapping gossip, storytelling, and generally giving each other a hard time the conversation turned more idealistic, driven by a simple question: if we could start with a totally clean slate and build from the ground up, what would high school look like?
Fast forward to Tuesday, August 23, 2011. A barbecue in South Philly. 28 high school students their families, old and new friends, colleagues and supporters, and our families. The little kids played soccer, while the high school students caught up or got to know one another. We chatted with students and parents, partly answering questions about the year to come but mostly just getting to know each other. Ann and Jerry D. skillfully managed the massive grill/barbecue pit in our new backyard, while the rest of our board, when they weren’t talking with students and families or helping to sign people in, helped make sure everyone was well fed.
It was a gathering that seemed at once totally normal and remarkable. We were on the campus of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, an epicenter of green technology research, development and innovation. Our students—high school seniors from Furness, South Philadelphia, and the West Philly Auto Academy—spoke at least half a dozen languages between them and brought with them an amazing array of talents, interests, and personal stories. Above all, it was the reason for our gathering that made the evening special. This was the first official function of the Sustainability Workshop—our first real shot at answering the question raised nine years earlier.
Now that we’re official, we’ll be posting a lot more about what exactly the Workshop is. But the short version is this: the Sustainability Workshop is an innovative, alternative senior year program based at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. In partnership with the School District of Philadelphia, the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster (GPIC) and Drexel University, the Workshop provides students with the opportunity to spend their senior year working on real-world projects that seek to improve energy efficiency, address the challenges of climate change, and lead Philadelphia into the green economy.
Our plan is to eventually grow the Workshop into a full high school. For now, though, we are so excited just to be off the ground, planning the school, developing curriculum and assessments, getting to know more of the folks at the Navy Yard, and of course connecting with our students and their families. It is a dream come true for us. We have a lot of hard work in front of us, and I know we will make our share of mistakes (hopefully they will be good ones). But it feels great to be off and running.
We had a lot of help getting here. Without the support of the GPIC, the School District of Philadelphia and the Barra Foundation, the Sustainability Workshop would not be opening on September 6th. Those partnerships in turn would not have been possible were it not for countless others who donated their time, expertise, or resources to support our work. Last but certainly not least, the major reason why anyone believed in us was the extraordinary work of the EVX Team, which showed the world what is possible when we unleash high school students on real, complex problems. To all the students, alumni, friends and supporters of EVX, we extend heartfelt thanks.
Please be sure to check back on this blog in the near future, as we will be a lot busier going forward. You can also follow us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Sustainability-Workshop/236000306441098.