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West Philadelphia Students are White House-Bound

The students from The Workshop School took their fuel-efficient race car design Wednesday's first-ever White House "Maker Faire" in Washington, D.C.

Students on the EVX Team at The Workshop School in West Philadelphia thought they had until the end of June to finish building their fuel-efficient Factory Five 818 electric blue race car.

But then they found out they'd have to get the project, one they've been working on their entire year, finished about two weeks early.

The high schoolers stayed late weekdays and even came in on Saturdays to get the job done.

"It's kind of like a sports team, too," said Simon Hauger, creator and leader of the EVX Team. "People give up Saturdays and stay after school for practice," he said.

The kids didn't mind. They figured a trip to the White House was a worthy cause.

The EVX Team, made up of students in the automotive technology and automotive collision repair programs at The Workshop School, were invited just a few weeks ago to Wednesday's first-ever White House Maker Faire in Washington, D.C.

"When I heard I was going to the White House I was like 'This can't be I true.' " said Joshua Pigford, an 11th-grader who has worked on the car all year and will be visiting D.C. for the first time. "I couldn't really believe it."

The EVX Team was created by Hauger in 1998 as an after-school program for students in West Philadelphia. After several years with the team, and seeing how project-based learning benefits students, Hauger this year founded The Workshop School, where he serves as principal.

Project-based learning, like building a race car, teaches students how to be successful in the real world in a way that reading a textbook can't, Hauger said.

"I wish it was as easy as learning the Pythagorean Theorem that would make us all successful," he said.

The students have been building the 818 for the entire school year. Hauger said it wasn't hard to get a group of teenagers excited about building a race car.

The goal of the project: Take the kit donated by Massachusetts company Factory Five Racing for the 818 chassis and adjust and adapt the car to make it not only fast, but also environmentally friendly.

As Hauger described it, they were to design "something that was fuel efficient and cool."

Pigford, the student who has worked on the car, said the most exciting part of the project was seeing all of the parts that were customized by the students working properly.

The sports car, which can go up to 150 mph, runs on biodiesel. The students make their own fuel from oil donated by Federal Donuts. One of the by-products of biodiesel becomes an ingredient for soap, so they started making that too.

Despite running on recycled oil from doughnuts and fried chicken, the car is fast and efficient.

Hauger said they expect it to get at least 98 miles per gallon, though they're hoping for more. The last car created by the EVX Team got 98 miles per gallon and they strive to improve on the mileage with each new creation.

Seven students who went above and beyond on the project were chosen to travel Washington.

Ann Cohen, manager of the EVX team and chair of the board of directors for the school's nonprofit partner, Project Based Learning, Inc., helped raise funds for the trip.

She said the team will fit right in at Wednesday's event given their innovation skills.

"We believe that we are very, very much a part of this entire maker movement that the Maker Faire is featuring," Cohen said.

The experience of traveling to the White House to show off the students' work is surreal, Hauger said.

Because the kids are just teenagers, he wasn't sure if they fully understood the significance of the opportunity. But on second thought, he wasn't sure if the adults could grasp it either.

He said, "It's nothing I expected in my lifetime."

©2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer