School nutrition programs were around long before the government decided to slash welfare payments and cut affordable housing projects. However, these and other draconian policies can only have increased the number of children who come to school on empty stomachs.
It’s a problem that’s not restricted to children from lowincome families. Children from all income-brackets are dashing out of the house on bowls of cold sugared cereal that can’t possibly sustain their energy through until noon. These students are soon drooping at their desks just when they should be ready to learn. In 1997, a survey examining national child hunger found that 42 percent of Canadian students do not regularly eat a nutritious breakfast before coming to school (Myers, 2000).
Teachers know nutrition makes a difference. That’s why many support the ever-increasing number of school breakfast, snack and lunch programs that are proliferating across Ontario.
Its 8:00 a.m. on a cold Wednesday morning in eastern Ontario. Yet inside Deseronto Public School, Hastings and Prince Edward DSP, teacher Gary Bur ridge has warm breakfasts waiting for the early risers. “On any one day, I serve between 12 and 25 students ” he says. “I open the door at 8:00 a.m. and by 8:30 the students are ready for class. We might have eggs, French toast, pancakes, waffles or grilled cheese sandwiches. The board has put in double sinks so I wash the dishes too.
“I know cooking breakfast is not part of my job as a teacher and would strongly resist any suggestion that it is,” says Gary. “However, like many of my colleagues, I am determined to ensure my students have the best possible learning environment .”
Nutrition programs in Hastings and Prince Edward are largely funded through the board’s Food for Learning Committee, which includes representatives from the district school board, the teachers’ federations, trustees, dieticians and local businesses. The money comes from the Trillium Foundation, the Breakfast For Learning/Canadian Living Foundation, and local fundraising. Breakfast is served every day at 43 of the board’s 46 elementary public schools. The goal is to have programs in the remaining schools up and running as soon as possible.
Karen Fisk, the ETFO local’s second vice-president, says the program is important because with good nutrition, children learn better. “The results of a major research project conducted in our board (Myers, 2002) cominced me that our breakfast, lunch and snack programs are very important to the children,” she says.
Elsewhere across the province, the story is the same. In Waterloo, for example, Rosemarie French, the former chair of ETFO Waterloo’s Healthy Learners Fund and a grade 5-6 teacher at Parkway Public School, is a volunteer with her school’s twice-weeklv program. Waterloo’s fund also supports roughly 20 other programs across the region. The local finds the money by hosting an annual dinner dance.
“Many of the students who use the program might otherwise not eat before class,” says Rosemarie. “Not only are they better not eat before class,” says Rosemarie. “Not only are they better prepared for learning, but we have also noticed that eating together offers students a quiet time for socializing. As well, they see a more relaxed side of the teacher.”
Christina Lofts, President of ETFO Lakehead, says her board runs several successful nutrition programs and cautions that teachers should not feel pressured to participate. “Teachers are extremely busy people. If they choose to volunteer their time in this way, that’s great. Others may decide not to do so for a whole variety of reasons. It can work best when the program has paid staff, and when parents and community members volunteer,” she says.
Brenda Moore, a grade 7 teacher at Welborne Avenue Public School, Limestone DSB, sits on her board’s Food Sharing Project. The project involves 50 school programs and feeds about 1,500 students every day. The money comes from a variety of sources, including the United Way and the Breakfast for Learning/Canadian Living Foundation. “In January, the project holds its ‘Talents and Treasures’ event,” says Brenda. “Our committee canvasses businesses, individuals and service clubs throughout the board for donations to our silent auction and raffle.”
In Limestone, the Food Sharing Project pays a coordinator who shops for and delivers the food to the schools. Each school has a volunteer coordinator, usually someone on the school staff, who faxes the school’s weekly food order to the coordinator.
Food delivery is also dear to the heart of Mary Pettit, who teaches grade 7-8 at Davenport Public School, Thames Valley DSB. Five days a week during the school year, Mary serves breakfast in the school gym to between 30 and 50 students. Each week, Mary posts a menu that varies from day to day. She also makes lunch for any student who arrives at school without one. “In the beginning, I lugged all the supplies from the supermarket to the school,” she savs. “Then I found a store that delivers food every other day. It’s been much easier since then.” Funds for the Davenport program come from Breakfast for Learning/Canadian Living Foundation, which also supplied a fridge, stove and dishwasher, and are supplemented by voluntary donations and dress-down Fridays at the school.
Ryerson Public School, a junior-kindergarten-to-grade-8 school in Toronto, is sensitive to the culinary expectations of its diverse student population. “Ryerson used to offer a breakfast program; we changed that to a whole-school nutrition program,” says Libby Sestito, Ryerson’s office administrator, who manages the school’s program.
"At about 9:45 a.m. every student in the school is offered a snack, which can be fruit, a bagel or a muffin. At noon, students can buy a nutritious lunch in our cafeteria for $2 .0 0 . Generally; we sene about 250 lunches a day out of a total student population of 660. Our menu always includes a wide variety of choice. ”
The funding for Ryerson’s program comes from the Toronto Foundation for Student Success. The foundation funds 360 school and community nutrition programs that provide meals and snacks to over 59,000 children. In turn, the foundation applies to Breakfast for Learning/Canadian Living Foundation
and other sources for assistance. “We are worried that the need is growing yet funds remain the same,” says Lorraine Nowina, CEO and Executive Director of the Toronto foundation.
“Because the provincial government has not increased the money it gives to nutrition programs through Breakfast for Learning/Canadian Living Foundation, Toronto schools are looking at a 19 percent decrease in funds,” says Lorraine. To counter this, the Toronto foundation seeks “in-kind” donations and is developing a pilot project with the Ontario Association of Food Banks. The association delivers perishable foods to Dundas Public School. Paid staff at Dundas cook food for their students and also deliver healthy meals to another school in the downtown neighbourhood.
“There may be hurdles to overcome as we move toward closing this funding gap, but we are fortified in knowing that by nourishing our children, we nourish the future,” Lorraine says. Ernestine McKenna, Education/Government Relations Associate with the Canadian Living Foundation/Breakfast For Learning and a strong advocate of school nutrition programs, points to 10 years of success with what she describes as “the only national, non-profit organization solely dedicated to supporting child nutrition programs in Canada.”
In Ontario, Breakfast for Learning/Canadian Living Foundation is funded partly by the provincial government, partly by corporate giving, and partly through community and parental donations. To qualify for this funding, a school’s nutrition program must operate at least three days a week and conform to other specifications. At the local level, Community Partnership Program (CPP) committees, such as the one in Limestone, made up of representatives from community agencies, administer the various programs. These agencies generally include public health officials, boards of education, service clubs, parents, and local businesses.
Using funds from Breakfast for Learning, the CPP hires a coordinator to develop, expand, improve and sustain school nutrition programs. The program allows participating schools to provide breakfast, lunch and/or snacks, depending on their individual needs. Funding is also available for equipment, food, staffing and other program-related costs. These funds ensure the programs do not encroach on the school or staff’s facilities. It is clear to Ernestine and many others that school breakfast, lunch and snack programs would not exist without support from teachers. “Children who come to school hungry are not ready to learn and find it hard to concentrate,” she says. “No one is in a better position to see the benefits of school nutrition programs than teachers.”
Ernestine has come to the personal belief that snack programs are the most effective way to reach students. “You don’t have to get to school early to attend; it is easy to administer; the program is universal,” she says.
Teachers and others who want to start nutrition programs in their schools can contact the Breakfast for Learning/ Canadian Living Foundation. To learn more, visit www.breakfastforlearning.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charlotte Morgan is the Editor of the ETFO Voice.
Myers, Anya. Improving the Nutrition Quality of School Snacks and Meals: Assessing the Need for Nutritional Education in the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board. This report was written by Anya Myers, Dietetic intern, Hastings and Prince Edward Counties Health Unit in 2000 on behalf of the Food for Learning Committee.