Food review survey now underway at New Westminster Schools
Feeding school success…
Nearly 50 students are lining up for a breakfast smoothie at Fraser River Middle School, where youth worker Tara Worth has just whipped up a mix of pineapple and almond milk..
It’s 8:15 a.m. on day three of the new school year, and it’s evident that breakfast here is already just part of the school culture.
For some students and families, school food programs are a convenience. For others, they provide reassurance that the food is healthy.
For still others, access to subsidized food means students will not be hungry in school.
Worth, who has served in the district for 15 years, said she became aware early on that student hunger can lead to challenges for learning and behaviour. That was the inspiration for starting up a breakfast program at the time at Lord Kelvin elementary school, with funding help from community organizations like the Lions Clubs.
At Fraser River Middle School, which opened its doors last year, she found an opportunity to continue to support kids with a breakfast program – from bagels and cream cheese to oatmeal and smoothies.
“This program is set up so that if you can pay, you do, but if you can’t that’s okay. Nobody is turned away from getting food. We need to set kids up for success.”
Beyond stop-gap measures….
While there are a variety of programs and funding sources supporting food security and healthy eating in New Westminster schools, the Board of Education in June directed staff to report on the steps and costs associated with a “district-wide plan for food programs for all of our schools so that no child is hungry and every child is eating healthy food.”
As trustee Jonina Campbell explained at the June board meeting, the goal may be a high expectation, but it’s one that the district can aspire to in moving beyond ‘stop-gap measures’ to make sure kids aren’t going hungry, particularly when poverty can affect children even in affluent areas.
In New Westminster, the school district has worked over the years with many partners, including Fraser Health, to address issues of food security and healthy eating in schools.
“Currently the district supports three in-house lunch programs with provincial funding,” said Betina Wheeler. Community Program Development Officer. “At the school level, additional food supports are provided based on the school’s individual needs and from a variety of sources.”
The textile recycling bin program, for instance, provides some revenue to support programs. Bins are located at Lord Tweedsmuir, Lord Kelvin and Glenbrook schools. In addition, community agencies over the years – from the New Westminster Fire Fighters Charitable Society to donations from community members – have provided funding or in-kind support. However, changing demographics, evolving school needs, and a need for reliable funding are increasingly pressing issues, notes the Healthy Schools New West Committee, formed in 2015 between Fraser Health and the district.
Although most elementary schools in New Westminster provide students with snacks if they don’t have a lunch, Campbell wants to see a program that ‘goes beyond the snack-drawer approach.”
Food Review Survey now running…
In preparing its report for January 2018, New Westminster Schools launched its Food Review Survey last week. The survey invites families to describe their interest in a food program, the type of program they would like to see, what they would be willing to pay, and if they are willing to have some of the costs go towards helping subsidize a child or children in need. The survey will run until September 29, 2017.
As well as gathering feedback from families, students and staff, the district is
gathering information from food service providers and other school districts to gain insights from best practices that can help inform decisions. School site surveys are also being undertaken.
School-wide strategies could involve school breakfast, lunch and/or snack programs; available to all students on an optional basis. While costs for such programs would continue to come from the district and other community organizations, fees for food programs might help subsidize food for those in need if there is support.
For Tara Worth, the breakfast program at Fraser River Middle School is a way to ensure contact on a daily basis with students. As a youth care worker, she is part of school-based care teams helping teachers support those students who are vulnerable.
“If something has happened, I’ll know,” she said. “Embedding food and face-to-face contact in the relationship, especially when it’s part of the school culture, is a good thing.”