Ann Cohen

Ann Cohen

Monday, 22 March 2010 21:38


I know that it’s not nice to feel good about the misfortune of others, but, I just can’t seem to help myself.

Let me tell you the whole story.  Through the hard work of our wonderful West Philadelphia State Representative James Roebuck, we got a call from Chevrolet. How would we like to have the Chevy Volt come to our school? They would send one of the engineers who helped develop this-next-new-thing in the automotive world and we’d have a great presentation about range extended electric vehicles.

Wow! We liked the idea so much we invited students from other automotive programs across the city to come. The School District provided a bus. We conference called with the presenters, the P. R. folks and the logistics personnel. We crafted an afternoon’s activities that included a presentation by Chevy, speeches by our Team members about our technology, a question and answer session and time for all of us to get a good look at the Volt.

This morning we arranged a 100 foot parking spot on Hanson Street for Chevy to park the tractor trailer carrying the Volt. We ordered the pizza. We set up chairs. We got the drinks. Then we got the call. The truck carrying the Volt broke down.  We’re not making this up. “Can you flatbed it?” I asked the transport supervisor.  I asked the guy who called from Detroit could they swap the tractor. He asked me did we have a tractor. While we have a lot at the Auto Academy, we didn’t have a tractor sitting around.  So GM had to fend for itself.

The P. R. folks showed up, the press showed up, the students and teachers showed up, the presenter showed up, the pizza showed up, but the Chevy Volt did not. Melanie Fox gave a terrific presentation about the Volt’s technology. Students from West, Randolph and Edison asked great questions. Ron Preiss welcomed all the guests. Sekou Kamara, Alexis Bland and Azeem Hill all gave wonderful speeches. We all had a great time talking to each other and learning.

It is good to feel good about the exchange of information and meeting lots of new students. But, here’s the bad part. It is Schadenfreude.  I am getting some sort of significant delight that GM couldn’t get their super new car to West Philly because of mechanical problems. Let me be clear. I like GM. I like Chevy. I own a Malibu Hybrid. It’s the best looking car I’ve ever owned. It gets great mileage. It’s never had a mechanical problem.

Before I became the manager of the West Philly Hybrid X Team, I was a fan who faithfully followed the Team competitions.  Inevitably, the day before a race, Simon Hauger would tell me that the car was broken and we wouldn’t be able to go. Of course, if you take a look at our record, you’ll see that Simon and the team always managed to get the car to the race and more times than not, they won. That’s why I have always had tremendous respect for Simon.

Today, my respect for Simon grew by about 25-fold. We got to our races raising the money we needed through bake sales and there we were listening to how many Chevy Volts they crashed tested at hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop and how it took about a quadrillion zillion dollars of research and development to create the Volt.  And they couldn’t get the car from New Jersey to West Philly.

Chevy, I love you. It was a great day, a wonderful visit. I just can’t wipe the smirk off my face. I’m so sorry.


Sunday, 21 March 2010 22:52

Thoughts on Renaissance

We wanted to share with you some of our thoughts and our classmates' thoughts on the Renaissance List.  As some may know, West Philadelphia High School is on the list.  We think this is not a good idea for many reasons.  We don't see the students coming to school for an hour longer and two Saturdays a month.  There are more students going to drop out. They should not transfer teachers, because they really help students deal with problems at home.  Our teachers are nice, and they know what they are doing.  Momo and I are really excited for college.  We are also very nevous, but we want to make sure that our high school is still the same place we left it.  We loved being in Auto and do not want that program to go away.

Below are two lists of ideas from the junior class in the Auto Academy.  A couple of the seniors ran a group filled of five to six juniors and asked the group two questions, "What are your concerns about West becoming a Renaissance school?" and "How would you create your ideal school?"

Thank you

Momo and Khaleda

Concerns about West Philadelphia High School becoming a Renaissance school.

1.  Will there be a raise in the drop out rate because students do not want to go to school longer or on Saturday?

2.  Our trans-passes do not work on Saturdays, how will we get to school?

3.  Who decides and what criteria will be used to pick the teachers that stay?  When will that happen? 

4.  Due to the longer day, will the length of the classes change?

5.  If we are a Renaissance school, what will our uniform look like?

6.  Lack of motivation to stay longer and come to school on Saturdays

7.  Is this a violation of student rights to not allow transfer?

8.  What will the graduation date be for seniors and will that interrupt summer programs offered by college and universities?

9.  Was the walk-through a formality for Arlene Ackerman and does the superintendent have personal ties to this school and the school district?

10.  What is the response from the alumni of West? 

11.  What does the classroom size look like in a Renaissance school?  How many new transfers will West receive since it is a community school and will that change the safety climate in the classroom?

12.  Will colleges and universities not accept students from West because it is a Renaissance school with a negative tone?

13.  There is not a clear standard for any aspect of a Renaissance school: longer school day, two Saturdays a month, teacher transfer?  There is not a clear standard or criteria for anything about a Renaissance school.

14.  What does a Promise Academy look like?

15.  Are we really going to have 50% of our teachers back or will teachers decide to leave and close to 70 to 80 % of the staff will not be here?

16.  Why the extra hour and not a complete change of the curriculum?

17.  Why get rid of the teachers?  What data supports that it is the teacher's fault for low test scores and poor climate?

Ideal School

1.  Able to leave the building for lunch.

2.  No uniforms

3.  Art classes

4.  Allow electronics

5.  Upperclassmen receive laptops for the school year

6.  More Outward Bound trips and field trips

7.  No hall-passes needed

8.  Rotating Block Roster

9.  7:45 am start to the day, 2:30 p.m. end of the day

10.  More trade courses

11.  Work rosters for upperclassmen

12.  Trans-passes given to each student

13.  More active science lab.  We want to actually do experiments and dissections.

14.  Early dismissal every Friday.

15.  Better and more nutritious food in the cafeteria

16.  Partnerships with local city universities

Thursday, 18 March 2010 09:05

How We Got Our Name

I wasn’t there at the very beginning.  At the start of it all it was Simon Hauger, math and physics teacher at the West Philadelphia High Auto Academy, and a group of students who entered the science fair. It was 1998. The kids in Simon's after school program built an electric go-kart. They won the science fair. It was a remarkable achievement. There had never been a science fair winner from West Philadelphia High School, let alone form the Auto Academy.

The after school program grew from building science fair projects to competing in the Tour de Sol, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious alternative fuel vehicle race.  The students built an electric car and became the Electric Vehicle, or EV Team. Besides building electric vehicles, they built hybrid and biodiesel vehicles, but the name stuck.

When we entered the X PRIZE, there were many suggestions about what our team name should be including X-Treme Team, X-Dream Team, and many other hokey suggestions. We kept our original team name and added the X: EVX Team.  However, we thought the name wasn’t quite descriptive enough, so we gave ourselves an official name, too. We would be the West Philly Hybrid X Team.  EVX would be the name of our cars. A little confusing having two names for one team, but it looks good on our logo.

Now, it looks like an extremely good idea since there is another EVX Team in the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE.  You can check out their website and follow them in the competition, too.  We hope that you take a look at all our competitors and see all the different ways teams are getting to 100 MPGe. Follow their progress and the new technologies. At the end of the summer we hope that they will all follow us across the finish line. We’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, 03 March 2010 09:20

Dr. D's Prescription for Education

Jerry DiLossi - also known as Mr. D., Jerry D. or Dr. D. - has been teaching auto technology to Philadelphia high school students since Hauger was in kindergarten. He and Ron Preiss deliver our NATEF certified curriculum in the following areas: brakes, electrical/electronic systems, engine performance and suspension & steering.  We are the only NATEF certified school in the Philadelphia School District. This is a big deal. NATEF certification is conferred by the Automotive Society of Excellence (ASE) and is not easy to obtain.

There are about 140 students in the Auto Academy. Jerry D. teaches most of them and it is unfortunate that a pretty large percentage of them don’t have much interest in auto technology. After 37 years in the District, Jerry can’t understand why he’s teaching all these kids who don’t give a rat’s ass about cars.

If you ask many of the kids how they got to Auto, they’ll tell you they don’t have a clue. They are telling the truth. Actually, none of us really understand it, but it’s partly because our school, the Academy of Automotive and Mechanical Engineering, is a hybrid. It is not a vocational school. It is not a career technical school. It is not a comprehensive high school.  It is a program within a comprehensive high school.

While the Auto Academy is a self-contained operation in a recently renovated building containing academic classrooms, computer labs and auto shops, we are part of West Philadelphia High School (WPHS), a neighborhood comprehensive high school. The main part of WPHS is a hulking structure that was built in 1911 and takes up an entire city block, one street over from the Auto Academy.  West has a long and storied history. Many incredibly successful people graduated from West Philly.  The Speedboys won more than their fair share of athletic championships.

More recently, however, West Philadelphia High’s reputation has suffered. It is listed as a school that fails to make adequate yearly progress in standardized testing. It remains on the list of persistently dangerous schools, in spite of a dramatically improved school climate under the leadership of Principal Saliyah Cruz. The 1100 students who are enrolled at West Philadelphia High are assigned to a number of different programs, including Auto.

This means, that even if you have no interest in cars, you may get sent to Auto where you spend 2 class periods a day learning about master cylinders and air conditioners. I think about this a lot. Even though I graduated from a Philadelphia High School 40 years ago, I have vivid recollections of what I liked and didn’t like about school.

I can tell you that if I had been put in a cosmetology program or a business program when I was in high school I would have been the most obnoxious and disruptive kid in the class – if I had bothered to come to school. Dr. D. says if anybody had put him in a roofing class he would have flipped out. He hates heights.

The school day is frequently filled with kids telling anyone within earshot what they think about cars, school and anything else that comes to mind. In spite of the frustrations Dr. D. encounters in the classroom, he and Ron Preiss spend hours and hours after school and on the weekends working with the Team – kids who like to work on cars. Beyond that, Dr. D. has become our best recruiter. Sometimes his recruiting methods are a bit unconventional. He’s recruited kids who get in trouble. He’s told them he’d get them kicked out of Auto if they didn’t join the Team. He’s told kids to join the team so they can get their lives together.

The results have been amazing. The kids are incredibly hard working. They come into the shop early. They come to school when it’s closed. They stay late. This success is a testament to Dr. D’s understanding of kids. It is also about what works in education. If you give teachers and students the space to do work that is important and interesting to them, they can achieve great things.  It really does work better than sticking kids in classes they hate.


Sunday, 21 February 2010 22:31

EVX Dream

Saturday was quite a day, that’s for sure. By the time the afternoon rolled around, I was ready to roll into bed for a nap.  I had everything packed in my car, when Sekou, Diamond and Michael started freestylin’ to music on the computer. It woke me up. I went back to the car and shot a little video. They’ll wake you up, too.
Sunday, 06 December 2009 19:51

When old is better than new

When old is better than new.

I’m an oldhead.  No doubt about it. I’m the oldest member of the West Philly Hybrid X Team by many years. However, when you hang around teenagers every day you learn some new things. I text, although never while driving. I am on Facebook, although I don’t play any games. I even know what LMAO is. I do it often. I work with teenagers.

That brings me to my story about Sekou Kamara. Sekou is a senior. I’ve told Mrs. Cruz, the West Philadelphia High School Principal, that if she ever needs any work done in the office, she should call Sekou. It’s true.  If we need the shop cleaned at 6:00 AM, Sekou will arrive at 5:45. If there are 50 boxes of text books to move, Sekou’s the man.

When visitors come to the shop and we need someone to explain the technology, Sekou is the best tour guide. By the way, (I recently learned that this can be expressed as BTW) he was a full time intern for SEPTA this summer working on the rail side.  Over the summer Sekou acquired a whole new body of knowledge about electricity.

During our team building workshop, Sekou was the most engaged and insightful team member.

However, if you are looking for Sekou at 3:00 PM for our regular Tuesday meeting, he won’t be there. Why? He is attending credit recovery, making up classes that he failed last semester. I truly don’t understand it.

I told Sekou he is an enigma. He didn’t know what an enigma is. I consulted with Ms. R. because she is an English teacher. I think the correct new definition of enigma is WTF. Sekou, who is also on Facebook, understood.

Ride or Die!

Sunday, 06 December 2009 11:29

Eagles Game Last Sunday

Good morning.  I hope you are sleeping in because I am not.  I am at school on a Saturday.  You are not.  I didn’t feel like come. But I did arrive on time. Today, we had a guest with us to talk about our goals for the team.  Her name is Helen.  She very nice, and she took time out of her Saturday to come to our school. She helped us with our thoughts about the car and how we run the meetings.

Last Sunday,  I went to the EAGLES GAME!!!!!!  E-A-G-L-E-S!!!!  They were playing the Redskins.  They wanted to give us a jersey before halftime for our work on the car.  I so was excited. I sat in section 124, row seven, set number 27.  That is how excited I was.  I can still remember the seat number.  Ms. R sat next to me and a Redskin fan sat left of me.  People were cursing because the Eagles were not playing well.  I was nervous for that Redskins fan.  Luckily, the Eagles won.

My teammates Azeem and Karysma went to the field and took pictures. We got a customized Eagles jersey that said West Philly Hybrid X Team.

Saturday, 05 December 2009 13:35

We go to school on Saturdays

Today is Saturday, and we have a meeting at school.  I got up late. Khaleda called me in the morning and told me to get my butt down here.  I was watched a movie last night so I sleep soooooooooooo late.  The movie was so good.  It’s called Pretty Woman.  My favorite part is at the end when Edward wanted Vivian come to New York with him, but Vivian didn’t want to become one of Edward’s girls so she said no.  The next day Edward showed up at her apartment and then they stayed together.  OMG!!  I love Richard Gere he is so great.

We met with Helen today. She works for Philadelphia Academy. She helped us to organize our meetings in a fun and effective way.  They want us to take more ownerships of the meeting.  Instead of Ann and Simon running them, we can run them.  At first, she let us introduce ourselves and use the first letter of our name to come up with an adjective. My name starts with the letter M, so I said "magnificent."  Then we played an icebreaker game. We have to ask each other a question and we can’t answer it.  I love that game even when I was kicked out at the third round.

She is a very nice person and beautiful.  We came up with few questions about what is important to building two cars. How is fun? What need to change? And why our school grades related to the team?  Jacques said: “dedication, determination, and discipline.”  Khaleda said: “great resume builder.”

I say: “to have more experience. Other people don’t have this great opportunity.”

At the end, Helen wanted us say what we liked about meeting and what we would change.  Mr. Hauger said: “people took all of his doughnuts.”  Most people said: “Not a lot of people showed up.”

Thursday, 12 November 2009 06:24

Typical Days

Typical Days

Tuesday November 10 was a regular West Philly Hybrid X Team meeting date. It was typical in many ways. I walked in the building at the end of the school day to hear the list of students who had detention being read over the loud speaker. Attendance at the meeting would be down or at best delayed.

A number of other Team members cruised through the shop on their way to credit recovery in the main building. Credit recovery does not refer to the financial crisis. It refers to going to class after school when you failed a class (or more) in the prior semester. More kids would be very late to the meeting.

Grades go in at the end of this week, so a few more kids remained upstairs working with their Spanish teacher to do the best that they can on their report cards. After all, we check report cards every quarter and poor performance effects who gets to travel with the Team. Check off a few more absentees.

We also had kids missing for illness, suspension and sibling duties. Somehow or the other we mustered a core group for the meeting. It was a good thing, because Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky was visiting to research a column she wrote about us that appears in today’s paper. Here’s the link: City high-school kids best MIT in $10M car contest.

Kids spoke to Ronnie about why they joined the Team and what they like about working on the cars. We got our picture taken. We finished writing a bunch of thank you notes and signing letters to supporters. Students who will be speaking at the National Superintendents Roundtable this weekend worked on their speeches.

We had nutritionally poor drinks and snacks.

Ron Preiss and Simon had a bunch of kids in the shop working of the hybrid drive for the Focus. This, too, is typical. The drive comes in and out of the car, gets taken apart and put back together, refined and refreshed all the time.

The missing team members returned from their various assignments and it was almost time to go.  We have much to do in our not so typical after school quest to win $10 million dollars. We’ll keep you posted.

Thursday, 05 November 2009 16:08

Senior Project What What

Good afternoon.  Ms. R is making us stay after school to blog for the website.  Some reporters from Daily News are here to talk to us about our entry in the X Prize competition.  Nobody told me.  If somebody told me that we were going to be videotaped, than I would have worn more makeup.  Momo says that I look okay.  All the seniors from the service project just stormed into Mr. Preiss' classroom.  They are so crazy.  They painted some of the walls of the main building with Wyclef and some of the members of the Sixers team.  Aaron was mad that he didn't get that many tickets to the Sixers game.  Javonne was telling us about one of those Sixers players was dunking on another.  Lachell videotaped Wyclef doing chin ups.

They are crazy.  I am mad at Ms. R because she only allowed certain seniors to go.  She said that we have to spread the love with the seniors.  He is suppose to be coming over here anyway to meet us so whatever.

Besides all of this, we are really in our senior projects.  Momo and I are trying to figure what are the best ways to inform teenagers about the changes about global warming.  From the summer, we figured that the internet is the best way to get out our message to others.  Momo and I want to put together a podcast before we go on winter break.  We are not sure what it is going to be on but we know we have to keep selling our car to anyone who is interested.

Okay, time to go.  Wyclef is here.

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