Obama’s Shout-Out to the West Philly EVX Team

President Barack Obama announces the expansion of his "Educate to Innovate" initiative to improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010. Looking on, from left are, Time Warner Cable Chief Executive Officer Glenn Britt, Eastman Kodak Chief Executive Officer Antonio Perez, Xerox Chief Executive Officer Ursula Burns, former Intel Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board Craig Barrett, former NASA astronaut, President and Chief Executive Officer of Sally Ride Science and Vice President of the Board of Change the Equation Sally Ride, and Exxon Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson.

President Barack Obama announces the expansion of his "Educate to Innovate" initiative at the White House on Sept. 16, 2010. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

July 18, 2012
Watch Fast Times at West Philly High, our journey with the school’s EVX team as they prepare for the 2010 Automotive X Prize.

“This is the kind of thing that just isn’t going to get a lot of attention initially,” President Barack Obama said on Sept. 16, 2010. “This will not lead the nightly news.  You won’t see this on the cover of Roll Call or Politico.  It doesn’t have conflict and controversy behind it.”

Obama was talking about the success of the West Philadelphia High School EVX Team. Less than three months earlier, the after-school automotive group almost advanced to the finals of the Progressive Automotive X Prize, a global fuel-economy competition with $10 million at stake for the victors.

The president used the inner-city high school kids and their teachers as an example of what he says is right about education:

What they had was a program that challenged them to solve problems and to work together, to learn and build and create.  And that’s the kind of spirit and ingenuity that we have to foster.  That’s the potential that we can harness all across America.

At that speech, the president unveiled of a new initiative called Change the Equation, an effort led by more than 100 CEOs to help high-need communities innovate in what’s known as STEM education: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

The initiative exceeded the president’s challenge of developing 100 new learning sites within a year, according to Change the Equation spokesperson Cathleen Healy. It’s currently in 134 classrooms and other school programs, and reaches almost 40,000 students across the country.

Change the Equation also researched math and science outcomes in all 50 states, pulling together a handy map that measures standardized math scores, the prevalence of science projects, dropout rates and more. The group also came out with a study last week, finding that only 19 percent of households have kids in after-school programs emphasizing STEM learning.

As for West Philly, it’s EVX team is still thriving. So much so that eight months after President Obama joked about how they didn’t win the X Prize — “They’re kids, come on” — the team won the 100 mile race at the Green Grand Prix. Their Factory Five GTM reached 160 miles per gallon.

Oh, and to address the president’s first point — you can see this story on FRONTLINE.

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