Nearly 15 years ago, we set out to invent a new kind of high school focused on authentic learning, real-world skill building and a deep sense of community. We believed that each student has unique gifts, interests and talents. Our job as educators was to help them discover and cultivate those gifts and carry them forward into adulthood. In the wake of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation this work was especially needed for the most disadvantaged students, who were being subjected to endless testing, remedial curriculum and “zero tolerance” discipline policies.
That vision became the Workshop School, which we founded in 2012. The school is housed within the School District of Philadelphia, a large, bureaucratic organization that many believed could not sustain innovation. Unlike many progressive schools, the Workshop serves students facing high levels of adversity both in and out of school. It is organized around a real-world curriculum featuring project based learning, hands-on work, internships and dual enrollment opportunities. It is a place where students routinely report that the work they do is relevant to their lives and their futures, and where they know that adults care about them. It has among the highest attendance and graduation rates in the city, and routinely sends more than half its graduating classes to college, while the remainder pursue careers. None of this work has been easy. None of it is finished. But the experience of launching the Workshop over a decade ago has taught us that bold, ambitious change is possible even under the most difficult circumstances.
Dr. Matthew Riggan is a Co-Founder of the Workshop School, a project-based high school within the School District of Philadelphia. As Executive Director of the school's nonprofit arm, Matt directs research and development, designs and develops systems to support the school's instructional model, and advocates locally and nationally for schools bringing project-based learning and authentic assessment to high-need communities. Matt is also a co-founder of the Philadelphia Learning Collaborative, which seeks to create or improve the conditions for student-centered, deeper learning to thrive in district, charter and independent schools throughout the Philadelphia region. Prior to launching the Workshop, Matt was a Senior Researcher at the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Pennsylvania. He remains at Penn as an Adjunct Assistant Professor.
Simon Hauger is also a Co-Founder of the Workshop School where he served as principal for 8 years. Simon developed a passion for experiential, problem-based learning early in his career. He started the West Philly Hybrid X Team where his students designed and built award-winning hybrid and electric-powered vehicles. In 2010 and again 2014, Simon and his students were honored by President Obama at the White House. The Workshop School continues to be a powerful example of what students and adults are capable of when they are trusted, challenged and equipped to do meaningful work as the basis for the learning experience. Simon continues to support the Workshop School as he and Matt take this model of education into the postsecondary world.