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For Second Straight Year, West Philly High Takes Top Prize at Tour de Sol

Now this great!  Tom Joyner Morning show provided them with the funding to attend the competition last year and they won.  This is their second win. This is a great acheivement for them.  They were competing internationally and won!  Congrats to them!

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Date: Wednesday, May 17, 2006
By: Monica Lewis, BlackAmericaWeb.com

A lot of things are better the second time around. And some Philadelphia high school students have found out first-hand just how good a successful repeat performance can be.

For the second consecutive year, the electric vehicle team of West Philadelphia High School shocked the automotive world, capturing first place at the 18th Annual Tour de Sol, the nation’s oldest and, some say prestigious, alternative fuel vehicle competition.

The 10-member team’s showing went a long way in yet again dispelling myths that students from inner-city public high schools aren’t capable of competing with better-financed, predominantly white schools. In fact, the students, who attended the Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based competition last week, were going up against not just against other high school teams, but college students and international competitors.

“Last time, we were surprised because we had no expectations to win. We just went up to have a good time, be safe and represent our school well,” Simon Hauger, a science teacher who is also a mentor for the Automotive Academy at West Philadelphia High School, told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “But this really does feel better than last year.”

Hauger said the back-to-back titles are a true testament to the dedication of his students, whose work on creating their hybrid car began last summer and included many after-school work sessions. The work has more than paid off for the school, who fielded the competition’s first team of color back in 2002. And ever since then, the students have been coasting along the freeway of success.

“Many people believe that young people have no interest in working hard or excelling in things that deal with science, but many kids are just longing for something to do other than play video games,” Hauger told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “If you give them something that’s a challenge or involves working hard, they’ll step up. And that’s what each of these kids did with this project.”

Felecia Ward, a spokesperson for the School District of Philadelphia, echoed Hauger’s comments, saying that the district is appreciative of the how well the students represented their school, the district and all of Philadelphia. Ward added that while it’s obviously that the students learned a lot about cars while preparing for the competition, they also walked away with some valuable life lessons.

“They gained a lot, in terms of teamwork and camaraderie, and their reputation keeps growing,” Ward told BlackAmericaWeb.com, maintaining that the district’s governing body, the School Reform Commission, and district CEO Paul Vallas are planning to honor the students at a meeting next month.

Ward said that win is even more significant because “it kind of blows all of the stereotypes out the water” that inner-city students can’t be as successful as their suburban counterparts.

This year, the team, which consists of eight boys and two girls, submitted the Hybrid Attack, an alternative fuel vehicle that doesn’t exactly fit the current environment-friendly mold, Hauger said. While fuel-efficient, the team’s vehicle has an appearance that’s more hip-hop than hoopty, Hauger said.

“The Toyota Prius and the Honda hybrids are not known for their great looks or high speeds, so we kind of broke the stereotypes of environment-friendly cars,” Hauger said of his students’ creation, which includes a 1.9 liter Volkswagen turbo diesel engine. Burning diesel fuel made from soybeans, the vehicle, which is a mix between a sports car and hybrid, gets roughly 55 miles to the gallon, a bargain in today’s world where gas prices are rising everyday, especially for drivers of gas-guzzling SUVs.

“When you think of fuel efficiency, you think boring,” Hauger said, stressing that safe and smart don’t have to be viewed in such a manner. “We wanted to make a cool car that was fuel efficient.”

In a written statement announcing the competition’s winners, organizers of the Tour de Sol stressed that the competition is one that features world-class entries that could do a lot in terms of improving the environment.

“For auto enthusiasts and environmentalists, these are tremendously exciting results,” said Nancy Hazard of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, organizer of the Tour de Sol. “This demonstrates what is possible today and that we can do even better in the near future. We must work together and continue to develop vehicles that aim to cut oil use and climate change emissions to zero.”

Hauger’s students outclassed nearly 20 competitors on their way to winning in categories that included emissions, maneuverability, acceleration and hill climbing. For their peak performance, the students secured a $1,200 cash prize for their school and became eligible for scholarships to trade schools.

While some may scoff at students wanting to attend a trade school, Hauger, a Drexel University graduate with an advanced degree and principal certification, said trade school students may get the last laugh.

“We encourage kids to go to college, but we’re also encouraging them to go to vocational or trade school,” Hauger told BlackAmericaWeb.com, adding that of the team’s four seniors, two will enroll in automotive training programs after graduation next month.

“In this area, auto technicians at car dealerships earn on average $60,000 a year, and the average age is 27,” Hauger said. “And a top technician at a dealership we’ve worked with is 32 and makes $100,000 a year.

“It’s a very lucrative career, and it’s something that’s not going away,” Hauger added. “People will always drive cars. And they’ll always need someone to fix them.”


Posted by loni on 05/17 at 08:38 AM in News

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