By Joseph Ho
Red Deer Express
Amanda Oster deals plenty with both children and food. Not only is she a parent, Oster serves as council chair at Fairview Elementary and acts as the school’s nutrition delivery coordinator, ensuring meals prepared by the caterer reach its students.
She can tell when kids haven’t had enough to eat before class, the key marker being their short attention spans.
“They can get very irritated a lot quicker. They can’t sit still. You just notice little things as a parent and as someone who’s been in the school for a few years. You just pick up on little things like that,” Oster said.
The premise here is that it’s hard to fill a mind when the stomach is empty.
A provincial government pilot project, already underway, aims to change that by serving breakfast and lunch to students at 31 schools across 14 school boards determined to be in greatest need according to socio-economic status data from Statistics Canada. The nutrition program carries a $3.5-million total cost.
“Our government recognized early on that children couldn’t learn if their tummies were hungry. We have to have something in place to make sure they were successful in their education and in their later years, successful in their communities,” said Kim Schreiner, MLA for Red Deer-North.
Students are fed three times each day at Fairview – during breakfast, lunch and then a snack to go home with. All 228 in the school are eligible for the program and Acting Principal Kim Walker has noticed a difference in student behaviour.
“I can tell you that they’re ready to participate. There’s a sense of less worry. Can you imagine coming to school every day and being hungry or worrying about your next meal,” Walker said. “I feel very blessed and honoured that our school was selected for the pilot project. It’s making a difference every day for the students that participate.”
The program must include a nutrition education component and Walker said students are making better choices about what they eat. In one example, she shared a meal with a student who chose yogurt over cookies.
“Children are engaged, they’re interested in food choices. We’re hearing more and more language about nutrition,” she said. “When we eat together communally – the power of that social connection can really make a world of difference and it might grant me a habit for a lifetime.”
In an email, Red Deer Public’s Director of Community Relations Bruce Buruma writes the government also requires board feedback to evaluate the program’s success. Their evaluation model will include surveying students, parents and staff in areas like behaviour, academics and satisfaction of families. That information will help the government make decisions regarding nutrition programs for the next school year.
Buruma adds that Fairview’s breakfast program for students arriving at 7 a.m., provided in partnership with Central Alberta Medical Imaging for the last decade, ended this year.