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School News

More than a cup of coffee

McCarthy High course teaches students about fair trade, links them with Haitian growers

Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Cristina Cabrera - The Florida Catholic

McCarthy's social entrepreneurship students with Principal Richard Jean at the school's iced Café Cocano sale.
SOUTHWEST RANCHES | From raw coffee beans to roasted coffee beans. From a 100-pound bag of coffee to 16-ounce cups of iced Café Cocano goodness: Students at Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy High School this year learned a pot-full of valuable lessons while brewing batches of fair trade coffee.

The learning took place during a first-of-its-kind course on social entrepreneurship that McCarthy High began offering in January. Principal Richard Jean had been looking for ways to expand the school's business curriculum while adding a Catholic social justice perspective. 

At the same time, business teacher Kim Zocco, who is completing her master's at St. Thomas University, was steeped in knowledge about a joint project of the university's Center for Community Engagement and the archdiocesan missionary group Amor en Acción: helping the Café Cocano growers cooperative in northwest Haiti sell their coffee at fair trade prices. 

Archbishop McCarthy social entrepreneurship teacher Kim Zocco poses with members of the Café Cocano cooperative in Port de Paix, Haiti.
The region is the poorest area of the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. It is also home to the Diocese of Port-de-Paix, which had been designated Miami's sister diocese by its second archbishop, the same one for whom McCarthy High School is named. 

Inspiration also came from Zocco's colleague at the school, Catherine Kohrt, chair of the Theology Department and moderator of its Justice and Peace Ministry. Kohrt had convinced Zocco to add her business expertise to the high school's Amor en Acción club, ultimately resulting in Zocco's own visit to Port-de-Paix to see how fair trade and Café Cocano functioned.

Kohrt was diagnosed with a brain tumor last year, and died in April at the age of 54. 

"Catherine was great with missionary work," said Zocco, who has taken over as moderator of the Amor en Acción club. "I'm just the tech and business-savvy instrument that was handed this teaching legacy. I'm truly blessed and humbled to continue the project with Café Cocano and the people of Haiti."

Zocco used a three-pronged approach to teaching the social entrepreneurship class, which was offered to seniors as a dual-enrollment course with college credit at St. Thomas University. 

First she taught students about Haiti through the eyes of the Catholic Church and Catholic social teaching. Having met some of the Café Cocanos farmers, she shared her experiences with the generosity and humility of the Haitian people. 

McCarthy students identify and sort through Café Cocano coffee beans.
"These are people who even after a long day in the field are still willing to invite you, a stranger, into their home to share a beautiful meal from what little they had to offer," said Zocco. 

From presentations by Msgr. Franklyn Casale, president of St. Thomas University, and Wendy Bourgault and Anthony Vinciguerra of the Center for Community Engagement, students learned about the fair trade coffee market, about the coffee farmers in the northwest of Haiti and how to identify quality raw coffee beans for roasting. 

"In these coffee growing communities the farmers are paid below poverty level, for a product we pay dearly for," said Zocco. 

The average coffee farmer in Haiti works 12 hours a day earning 65 cents to $1 a pound. The farmers involved in fair trade and Café Cocano have seen their wage increase by 500 percent, translating to $3.35 per pound of coffee. 

"This is such a great accomplishment because we are helping the ones in poverty to get the hard-working money they deserve," said Jovanna Sarduy, a student in Zocco's class. "By cutting out the middle man we have been able to buy the coffee beans straight from the farmers for more money."

Next, the students learned about social entrepreneurship through the eyes of Joel Pollock, founder/owner of Panther Coffee in Miami's Wynwood area. Pollock travels the world in search of not only the best organically grown coffee beans, but also to meet with growers to ensure they receive a fair return for their product.

Students presented Pollock with a 100-pound bucket of raw, sorted Café Cocano coffee beans, and watched the intricacies of the roasting process. They also learned how coffee is brought to market. 

McCarthy students carry a ready for market 100-pound bag of Café Cocano.
Zocco concluded the course by guiding the students toward developing a marketing, branding, ad campaign and sales strategy for Café Cocano. For four days in April, Zoccos social entrepreneurship students sold iced Café Cocano at $3 per 16-ounce cup. Every day, the supply sold out. 

"The most memorable part of the project for me was the end product when we were given the opportunity to sell our coffee to the student body and share with them the story of the coffee," said student Natalie Guzman. "Also, to see their enjoyment of the coffee."

"It was heavenly," said Kaylee Suarez, a freshman at McCarthy High. "I bought one every day, and even when I finished mine, my friends would offer me their coffee, and I would finish them, too."

Zocco's student entrepreneurs have already attended their high school graduation, yet the real-life lessons of the Café Cocano project will remain with them.

Natalie said the experience is helping her shape her future. "I knew that I wanted to do social work, especially in less developed areas. However, this class showed me how to put these ideas into practice by giving me a hands-on example to work with."

In the meantime, Zoccos classroom remains full of Café Cocano waiting to be roasted and sold. She said she looks forward to the legacy that will emerge out of this first social entrepreneurship class. 

"Each class will grow and hand off the Café Cocano project to the next class. In addition to Catholic social thought, my students have learned that its okay to make a profit as long as youre doing something good and productive for the people and for the planet."

To purchase fair trade Café Cocano, contact Kim Zocco at or Anthony Vinciguerra, director of the Center for Community Engagement at St. Thomas University, at 305-628-6717 or 

Joel Pollock of Panther Coffee shows Archbishop McCarthy students how the Café Cocano coffee they brought in is roasted.

Comments from readers

WENDY BOURGAULT - 6/23/2014 12:09 PM
Great article! Kim it was wonderful working with you and your students. If any other schools are interested the Center for Community Engagement at St. Thomas University would be happy to help you get something started so you can become a part of this you can help transform the world.
KIM ZOCCO - 6/23/2014 8:16 AM
This was a great piece on a multiparty project... I hope to inspire many more high schools to add a course on SOCIAL ENTERPRISE to tackle their own social issues in their area or abroad. This hands on experiential learning is life changing for all stakeholders involved!
WONDERFUL ARTICLE - 6/19/2014 8:35 AM
Wonderful article showing the importance of hands learning that bring to life the importance of Catholic values taught and the Catholic schools.
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