Shortly after the first chocolate bar rolled out of the Askinosie Chocolate factory, we began seeking opportunities to involve the community, specifically students, in our bean to bar adventure. We didn’t have to look too far to see the Missouri Hotel, Springfield’s largest homeless shelter, was only one block away from the factory on Commercial Street. As many as 80 children sleep there on any given night, and many of them attend schools within walking distance of our factory. We were inspired to begin a program that would involve young people from our community in our small, international business, and the idea for Chocolate University was born.
Chocolate University (CU) is an experiential learning program with a worldwide reach for local students. The goal is to inspire students through the lens of artisan chocolate making to be global citizens and embrace the idea that business(es) can solve world problems. We involve neighborhood students from Boyd Elementary, Pipkin Middle School and local high schools in our business through visits to their classrooms, field trips to our factory, updates from origin, visits to origin and much more. The goal is not for these students to become bystanders during a lecture on chocolate making. It’s to provide them with a hands-on experience that takes them from the inner-workings of the factory to the cocoa bean farms across the world.
Boyd Elementary School
Most of children at the Missouri Hotel attend Boyd Elementary, only three blocks from the Askinosie Chocolate factory. As one aspect of CU, we partner with Boyd’s fourth and fifth grade classes where they weave our chocolate into many aspects of their curriculum. When the students learn about inventions in the classroom, they walk down the street for a special tour of our factory to see how we transform cocoa beans into a chocolate bar. And when Shawn travels to origin, he sends pictures and stories to each class. We also visit their classrooms often to talk about our journeys to cocoa farms around the world, as well as teach the basics of balance sheets, income statements and profit sharing. And of course there’s a lot of fun thrown in, too: Every year students from Boyd visit our factory for a celebration and make chocolate treats.
Pipkin Middle School
Pipkin Middle School also is located a stone’s throw from our factory. Chocolate University is a “club” at the school and the teenagers who participate in CU interact with students from Malagos Elementary in Davao, Philippines (one of our cocoa bean sources). After learning about the chocolate-making process, students are introduced to kids at Malagos, and they begin developing cross-cultural relationships with them. At the inception of the program, the students began exchanging letters, and soon the Pipkin students learned that the students at Malagos had neither computers nor Internet connectivity. The Pipkin students vowed to change that, and with our help, they began the difficult task of fundraising for the cause. In 2010, Malagos became the first school in Davao to have a computer and Internet connectivity. The CU students at Pipkin also have been involved in the maintenance of our Sustainable Lunch Program at Malagos. In this program, Askinosie Chocolate purchases Tableya (a traditional Filipino hot cocoa) created by the PTA at Malagos, sells the Tableya, then returns 100% of the profits to the PTA for them to source local food to provide lunches for each of the 800 students. To date, the program has provided more than 240,000 school lunches.
Local High Schools
Each year, CU accepts applicants from local high schools to participate in a special course that will take them from the campus of Drury University to the lush cocoa bean farms in Tanzania. The cooperative program brings the students to the Askinosie factory for immersion learning sessions. During summer break, the students stay in Drury dorms for a week and are coached in a crash course of direct trade methods, cacao agronomy, Tanzanian culture, Swahili and more.
Then, Shawn, Drury faculty and the students make a 36-hour journey to the Kyela region of Tanzania where they are introduced to our farmer partners and their community. The students participate with Shawn and the farmers in the cocoa bean inspection and profit sharing meetings before witnessing firsthand the benefits of our Direct Trade relationship with the farmers.
The CU students also work on several projects related to Mwaya Secondary School, a high school with which Askinosie Chocolate has had a collaborative relationship since 2010. One project is a Sustainable Lunch Program, just like in Davao, Philippines. We purchase premium Kyela rice harvested by the PTA of Mwaya, sell the rice, then return 100% of the profits to the PTA so they can provide lunches for each of its 1,000 students. Since the program began in 2013, we, along with assistance from our friends at Convoy of Hope, have provided more than 96,000 lunches.
We’ve also worked on the implementation and maintenance of a Khan Academy video-learning program on laptops and projectors throughout the school. During a CU trip, we set up a generator to power the laptops we’ve provided, and because of our efforts the Tanzanian government has plans to bring electricity to the school soon. Thanks to a generous donation, CU also funded the school’s first computer teacher to manage the new video-learning curriculum. In past years, CU funded the first textbooks at the school and a deep water well for the village, which now provides potable water to the village’s 2,000 residents. Our CU students also facilitate discussions with the Empowered Girls club at the school, which is a program funded by CU that aims to increase the retention and graduation rate of female students. Each high school class that experiences Chocolate University to find new ways to raise funds in order to support the African community they have grown to love.
These short-term trips do more than inform local students about how to make great chocolate. They expose students to the possibilities and opportunities for change within their community and in a world beyond their own. There are several examples that illustrate the success of the CU program. One of our favorites is from a student in the 2010 CU class who actually decided to spend her GAP year in Tanzania to work with the Empowered Girls organization. Another favorite is that a during a recent CU Tanzania trip, a student texted his mom, “This is the best day of my life.”
And that is the vision behind Chocolate University—to make a bar of chocolate more than something to be savored. CU helps bring the world to local students, who in turn, bring inspiration and possibilities to the world.
So how can you get involved? We’ll tell you!
1. Chocolate University is funded by proceeds from Askinosie Chocolate factory tours, so come on in!
2. CU also is funded by generous contributions, which help support our larger projects. You can make a tax deductible donation to The Chocolate University Fund here or you can mail a check to Community Foundation of the Ozarks at 425 E. Trafficway Springfield MO 65806 (please put Chocolate University Fund in the memo line).
3. Buy our chocolate! After all, we can’t run Chocolate University if we aren’t in business.
4. Engage with us on social media!
For more information about Chocolate University, visit us on our blog.