The 8-year-old entrepreneurs of the Lippman School in West Akron have percolated, from concept to creation, a self-branded product to raise funds for their private school, and even some cash to feed the needy.
On a recent Friday, third-graders held for the first time in their little hands the bags of coffee that have taken them an entire year to design, market and now sell to the public.
With no coffee drinkers in the crowd, the dozen students dangled their legs, crinkling bags of the freshly roasted beans in their laps and explained in business terms why they chose coffee.
“Because most people drink coffee,” Sonja Roy said.
“Like she said,” classmate Allison Shkolnik echoed.
The students produced their fundraising product, to be sold instead of the usual candy bars or wrapping paper, as part of a yearlong class assignment in second grade, when teacher John Bennett asked them to find a problem and work toward a “real-world” solution.
“In my mind, what makes problem-based learning work is bringing in the professionals,” said Bennett, a retired Akron schools teacher who has worked at Lippman for two years.
The project started with students identifying an unrelated issue: Students and their feelings often get hurt while horsing around or playing during recess.
They brainstormed solutions, produced videos on proper playground etiquette and eventually decided that new equipment might minimize the falls and scrapes.
Seeking funding, they used iPads to present their business plan to the school’s board of trustees.
Michael Litt, a trustee and owner of the Nervous Dog Coffee Bar & Roaster, saw an opportunity to develop the students’ altruistic fervor by bridging private business, charitable giving and education.
“We live here. Our kids go to local schools. What can we do to combine our existing for-profit company with the larger community,” Litt said of a similar program with Our Lady of the Elms, which also has branded and sells coffee produced by “Nervous Dog Coffee, too”, the shop’s charitable arm.
“When it opened in 2006, the coffee shop was trumpeted as ‘for the community by the community,’?” Litt said. “This is an actual opportunity to put our money where our mouth is.”
Litt suggested to the students that they sell coffee. If they designed the product, his company would roast the beans, package the coffee and even help sell the bags in his store — keeping a smaller portion of the proceeds for himself. The bulk of the profits, 15 percent for the school and 10 percent for the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, go to charity.
Litt hopes sales offset the hit in profits he is taking on each bag. But he can’t put a price on what the students have taught him.
The kids gravitated toward making something they could call their own, and even helping the community in the process.
“Some people don’t have enough to eat. Or they don’t have money to buy food,” said Sonja, who is as tall as she is kind for her age. “Instead of just thinking about yourself, you should think about others.”
Each bag provides five meals through the food bank, she and classmates explained.
Learning the ropes
The students agreed on the concept then began the deliberation process, sifting through colors for the packaging, various logo designs and eventually agreeing on a slogan: “Enjoy Our Blend With A Smile”.
Bennett led his students through the art of business, from marketing to product placement. He turned to family for help, setting up a Skype interview between the students and his daughter, then in marketing at Politico in Washington, D.C., and her husband, who specializes in customer and client surveys.
The students settled on an earth-tone for the bags — purple just wasn’t “very coffee-ish,” one girl said — and launched a community survey to identify the top-selling flavors.
The Lippman Blend is available in various flavors infused with beans from Costa Rica, Central America and Indonesia. Bennett plans to take the lesson further by incorporating the geography and agriculture of the bean-growing countries into curricula in other grades.
The coffee can be purchased for $12.95 online at http://shop.nervousdogtoo.org/category-s/1846.htm, or at the Nervous Dog shop at 1530 W. Market St. in Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.