Philadelphia Education Challenge

Article on PHL EDU Winning Team

Original post Written by the Penn Charter School

A group of six Penn Charter students won the Philadelphia Education Challenge High School HeroesX (HSHX) Philadelphia prize for the STEM coding and computer literacy curriculum they developed for third and fourth graders at the Gesu School’s summer school.

In its first year, the High School HeroesX Philadelphia contest focused on narrowing the education gap and improving high school and college graduation rates in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in Philadelphia where the gap is most severe.

Penn Charter sophomore Ian Harbison and seniors Mitchell Hogan, Derek Magers, Michael Newman, Andy Nguyen and Jonathan Weiss worked together to develop the lessons for the students at Gesu, a pre-K to 8 Catholic school in North Philadelphia.

Members of the Penn Charter team visited Gesu’s summer school regularly for seven weeks and ran lessons on coding, powerpoint and keyboarding. The STEM curriculum the PC group created earned 95 of 100 possible points and took the top prize in the High School HeroesX competition. Points were awarded in three categories: how the project could narrow the education gap and allow students to either reach college or find a job more easily; scalability for other schools and cities; if students were more excited to learn than they were before the curriculum was implemented; and if students were provided with tools they need that are not taught in school.

High School HeroesX Philadelphia awarded $1,400 to Penn Charter in January, which PC will use to purchase Little Bits – plastic modules that snap together to form electric circuits that can power fans, play music or sound an alarm – for Gesu School and Widener Memorial School, one of Penn Charter’s closest service partners.

“Our judges noted that the Penn Charter curriculum went above and beyond the rest beacuse of its applicability to the job market of the future, as well as understanding the basic tools to enhance one’s life and ability to do other school work,” said HSHX founder Eli Wachs.

This student-sparked and implemented idea for the STEM curriculum grew out of the work several team members did as part of Penn Charter’s extracurricular Innovation Club. James Ballengee, director of the Penn Charter Center for Public Purpose said, “The students really did this independently.”

Penn Charter’s Center for Public Purpose is the hub for the school’s long-standing and extensive service program. The world’s oldest Quaker school, Penn Charter has a national reputation for its service learning program; that program is embedded in the curriculum and engages children in all grades in age-appropriate service activities that also serve educational goals. The center is focused on local communities, local issues and innovative solutions.

High School HeroesX Philadelphia was started by Haverford School senior Eli Wachs. It is a part of HeroX, which was inspired by the XPRIZE, and is a platform to inspire, fund and collaborate on ideas to drive social change. “I founded High School HeroesX as a high school freshman as a platform to give youth the tools they need to solve local issues through incentivized competition. My hope is that it empowers youth to break the traditional norm of problem solving being up to adults, and allowing them to make meaningful change at a young age,” said Wachs.

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