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Metro High School And The Chocolate Factory

Students and staff of Metro High School produce and cut molds to form their chocolate bars

What started last year as a fundraising venture for the Metro High School robotics team has now become a full-blown candy business.

With over 50 students and 5 faculty members involved, the group now runs a complete chocolate bar company that produces thousands of bars. Their business model encompasses three separate industries that students manage:

  1. Blank/Mold Manufacturing

  2. Retailing

  3. Educating other teams

The process of making the chocolate bars starts with the mold, which is customizable and created at the school. Teacher Shannon Ellis explained that the initiative to create the molds is what started the entire venture. “We were messing around with the idea of building a vacuum form sealer, and what we could do with it. We said, ‘lets see if we can make a mold for candy bars, we will make a Metro robotics mold and make candy bars,’ and when it worked we were all amazed with each other! It was so cool.”

This mold is created by the students and staff at Metro High School. It is heated to be pliable, then placed and vacuum sealed around the mold design.

 Finding a durable plastic to serve as the mold for the chocolate proved to be a challenging task. If you ask Ellis, however, failure is all part of the learning curve. “You’re going to create a process here and it’s not going to work, so now what? You’re going to go back, do it again and reengineer it until you get it right.” After a series of tests with different materials, flat sheet sleds bought at a hardware store were the winning molds.

After the molds are created and the chocolate is poured, then comes the retailing. “When we started making the candy bars and we were looking for a way to retail those to make money, we started going down to the New Bo market,” Ellis said. Through the students’ retailing efforts at the market, invitations to new marketing opportunities started coming along. The students were invited to more and more events to distribute their product; one of which included eating their chocolate bars in a conference room with the Governor of Iowa.

For these students, the project has transformed itself into more than just manufacturing chocolate bars to raise money. Mindy Hartman, a senior and captain of Robotics Team 4175 says, “we love the aspect of going out and seeing the shocked faces that say, ‘wow, you’re doing this all by yourself?!’ We’re getting more out of that than the profit. Teaching the community has become more fun to us than the chocolate bar itself.” In fact, the students were presented a Connect Award for their outstanding community outreach.

Delicious Real Curriculum:

Mindy Hartman, a senior at Metro High School displays one of her team’s robots, a chocolate mold and the Connect Award the team received for outstanding community outreach.

Beyond all the chocolate and awards, what are these students really learning through this business? “It’s this ability to problem solve, it’s the communication, it’s the networking. They’re working on all of these kinds of skills,” says Ellis. “It’s the idea of financial literacy: Setting goals, achieving goals and managing your daily routine. I get excited every time we see the standards that the state sets for the kids. Those benchmarks are all wrapped up in everything that we’re doing here.” The lessons being learned through this project exceed the average school’s consumer math. “Part of this process is negotiations with our customers and with potential clients. I have never seen a curriculum do a model that allows students to do that. This couldn’t be more real world,” Ellis explained.

The skills learned through this business not only fulfill the students’ educational requirements, it helps shape their careers. Resume building can be a daunting task, especially with so many students having nearly identical resumes. How can one student differentiate themselves from the rest of the resumes or college applications? According to the students and staff at Metro High School, this business is the perfect way. “How many high school students can put on their resume that they essentially started their own company that turned into something huge?” Hartman asks. The answer is not many. “Other students have the same things on their resumes: degree and diploma… but do they have real world experience in talking to people in the industry?” Most likely, no.

Clearly these students are learning a lot, but should this type of program be implemented at all high schools? According to Hartman, the answer is yes. “The teachers here do a great job of connecting real world stories to our lives. You don’t always have that in other school programs. Students generally just come in and look at the white board. But here, you’re learning skills that you normally wouldn’t. I think that some aspect of this should be integrated into every high school. Make it real world for these students.”

In just over 1 year, this venture has raised enough money to help fund other extracurricular activities at the school, so what can we expect for the future? “I hope that in 5 years I come back and Shannon over here has decided to leave Metro and do chocolate bars all by himself,” jokes Hartman. For Ellis, the goals are to spread their business both nationally and internationally. “This process is a testament to how a group of young people can really do something. We want to give every student here the opportunity to have that experience.”

The Cedar Rapids Community School District agrees. It has taken the success of projects like Metro’s Chocolate Factory and built them into a program available to every high school student. The Big Ideas Group is an elective option that allows students to join groups and start projects with the intent of growing their resumes so that they can further differentiate themselves from their peers while still learning rigorous content from the CRCSD curriculum.

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