‘It’s hard to learn when you’re hungry’: Alberta launches school nutrition program

The province announced Monday it was launching a pilot school-based nutrition program aimed at preparing students for a healthy future.

Alberta’s NDP government is promising $3.5 million this school year, $10 million next year and $20 million the year after. As part of the Government of Alberta’s Future Ready initiative, the program is being funded from Alberta Education’s existing budget. It will benefit about 4,500 students.

“We know that good jobs begin with a good education. Access to a daily nutritious meal can really help children’s grades and prepare them for a healthy and successful future,” Premier Rachel Notley said.

“Hunger should not be a factor in the future of our children in Canada.”

The nutrition program will be initiated in 31 schools at 14 school boards across the province, including the public and Catholic systems in Calgary and Edmonton. The Calgary Catholic School District has chosen St. Peter and Holy Family schools to take part. The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) has chosen Marlborough Elementary and has yet to determine what other school will be involved.

St. Peter Elemetary School student Caterina Ngwudike said she often sees other students come to school hungry.

“It’s kind of hard to work when you didn’t eat anything and sometimes they don’t have breakfast, either,” the Grade 6 student said. “So if they don’t have a lunch it will be really hard to focus during the day and they will just be really tired.

“It makes me feel really sad…They say that they are really hungry and since I might have an extra snack I will give it to them, but sometimes they have to put down their heads in class…because they can’t do any work.”

Notley said Monday school boards will be asked to evaluate what works best in the schools they have selected for the pilot program.

“We’ve asked them to be creative based on their circumstances,” she said. “So in some cases you might be looking at breakfast, in other cases we might be looking at a mid-morning snack and other places we might be looking at lunch.”

“The upside to this flexibility is that allows us to really effectively evaluate what works best and come up with the best practices as we move forward,” Notley added.

St. Peter principal Bruce Campbell said the school is excited to be part of the pilot.

“With the drop in the price of oil in the province of Alberta, there’s a great need in many communities across the city and across the province,” he said. “So to have a program like this brought to St. Peter school, in which we are able to provide lunches for students if they so desire, that’s fantastic.”

Education minister David Eggen said it will be up to school boards and schools to determine how they want to spend the money and how many students the program will serve.

“The schools can make choices about how the nutrition program is administered and school boards, as well,” he said. “We have targeted programs in some schools. I see universal programs in others. I think the most common one I see is anyone who wants a meal is certainly welcome to have one.”

Each of the 14 publicly funded school boards will receive $250,000 in grant funding to assist with the pilot. The government said results will help inform decisions regarding nutrition programs for schools across the province in 2017-18.

Calgary Board of Education Calgary Catholic School District Canadian Rockies Regional Division Edmonton Catholic Schools Edmonton Public Schools High Prairie School Division Holy Family Catholic Regional Division Livingstone Range School Division Medicine Hat School District Northern Lights School District Red Deer Public District St. Paul Regional School Division Westwind School Division Wetaskiwin Regional Division
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