When is a bar of chocolate more than just a piece of candy? It becomes something more when it is used to educate students and encourage them to use their critical thinking skills, do real-world math, participate in the economy, and learn about other cultures.
High school campus budgets don’t always fund extracurricular activities, so students need to find other ways to support their clubs and sports teams. Fundraising is both a necessity and an educational activity. Students learn goal-setting, budgeting, and social skills. High Desert Young Writers, a creative writing club for which I am the faculty advisor, practices writing skills by creating newspaper articles and essays. Using Equal Exchange as one of the fundraisers, they also learn about being a global citizen.
When preparing for a fundraiser, my students first set goals for the year: what do they want to do? This year, they want to make club t-shirts, print an anthology of their writing, and go on a field trip. With goals in place, they create a budget. Armed with some very basic accounting skills, they do the math. They quickly learn that things are more expensive than they thought and their Associated Student Body (ASB) account doesn’t have enough to cover everything. The students then brainstorm ideas on how to raise the money. The list usually looks like this: car wash, sell stationery, bake sale, sell candy, beg. They often narrow it down to “selling candy.”
With the top contender chosen, they begin to list companies that do school/club/team fundraisers. There are many choices, and all offer different amounts of revenue. At this point, I suggest a “compare/contrast” table to help sort all the information. They make a chart with columns headed: percentage profit, prepaid, shipping cost, minimum order, quality of the product, etc. One company quickly gets eliminated with its requirement to prepay fifty cases and the shipping, which adds up to five hundred candy bars at $250 and $100 shipping. There are only six students in the club, and if they had $350 in their ASB account, they wouldn’t need to fundraise.
The decision to choose Equal Exchange’s chocolate doesn’t come easy. They like how it’s set up and believe they can make most of the year’s budget. The catalog contains a wide variety of items, but they are not something your average fourteen to eighteen-year-old would buy. As writers, these students tend to be the quiet ones, so the difficulty is the need to sell the product to adults. To get them to overcome this we role-play, practicing their sales pitch and learning how to communicate to peers and adults why they are raising money and why this product isn’t “just candy,” but is making the world a better place.
It is this last reason, making the world a better place, which gets them the most excited. I share with them the videos on the website. They are surprised that the common items in their house – tea, coffee, chocolate – often come from small farmers around the globe. We discuss how products move around the world, how our choices make us global citizens, and how small things (like a bar of chocolate) can make a difference.
With one small bar of chocolate, the students have learned many things and touched on many subjects. They have set goals (critical thinking), set a budget (math), chosen a product (economics), submit an Op/Ed piece to the school newspaper (writing) and learned how their actions could help others they’ve never met (social studies).