New School, Old School

A suburban high school student makes a bold choice

by Micah Hauger

When I told my friends I would be switching schools, they were stunned. Last year, I chose to transfer from a “high-performing,” well-resourced suburban high school to attend an urban public school in Philadelphia for my junior year. I didn’t get kicked out, and I didn’t fail out. I actually made this choice because I believed it would better prepare me for life.

Like a lot of other families, my parents moved to a “great” school district when I began kindergarten. I flourished in school—I was reading novels at a young age, taking advanced math in middle school and had an active social life. My teachers loved me and my parents were proud.

At the same time, I was witnessing the work my father was doing. He had started an after-school club at the auto shop at West Philadelphia High School, which grew into EVX, the award-winning electric car program, and then a pilot program at the Navy Yard called the Sustainability Workshop. At the core of the work he was doing was the belief that real-world, project-based education could help engage students who were not responding to traditional classroom learning.

So when I entered middle school and found out that a project-based program was being offered, I eagerly applied. I was accepted, and it was an amazing year. Instead of having a test on the different layers of the earth, we actually re-created them with large draping papers and designs in the hallway. I applied for the seventh-grade and eighth-grade programs each successive year, and loved them.

As a rising ninth-grader, I attended Lower Merion High School, along with all of my friends, most of whom I have known since I was young. My experience of LM was that it was often just a grind to memorize mostly useless information to pass the next grade-orientated test. I got good grades in freshman year but I did not enjoy learning, and by 10th grade I was no longer a straight-A student.

For my junior year, I decided to transfer to the Workshop School, a project-based school in Philadelphia. This was a huge switch for me. In addition to having the distinction of commuting from the suburbs to an urban high school, there were two other factors that set me apart. One, my father is the principal at the school, and two, I was one of the two or three white kids attending a school where the student body is almost 100 percent black.

Of those two factors, being the son of the principal is the bigger challenge. People are sometimes not sure if they can tell me things, worried I could report them to my dad. It makes me feel like I can view certain situations, but not actually participate in them.

I’m happy to say that being the white kid isn’t that bad. In general, compared to Lower Merion, students at the Workshop School are friendlier, the mood is lighter, and everyone laughs a lot more. It feels easier to be yourself.

The complete cultural flip and being—for the first time in my life—the minority taught me a lot about collaboration and communication. I found myself intellectually engaged and enjoying this new community. Working on projects with people who are different from me is something you can’t learn in a traditional suburban classroom.

I still talk to my friends from my previous school. Last year was horrible for them, up all night studying for something forgotten just weeks later, addicted to caffeine with major sleeping problems and much more. Overall, they tell me that school sucks and they hate it. I’m happy to say that is not how I feel. I am now able to say that school is fun, and I never thought I would be able to say that again.

Micah Hauger is a senior at the Workshop School, where he started his own Thai rolled ice cream business, Philly Rollers. He will attend MissionU this fall.