Student Bambi Melville, centre, enjoys some spaghetti at Fairview Elementary School. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Universal food program for students at Red Deer school to continue

All Fairview Elementary students can get a free breakfast and lunch

Teachers at Fairview Elementary School know it’s hard to learn when you’re hungry.

They are happy students at their school will receive continuing funding from the Alberta Education School Nutrition program for the provision of 215 breakfasts and 215 lunches every school day.

Vice-principal Greg Joslin was spooning up a spaghetti and cucumber lunch Monday to kids in his Grade 4 class as Annie McKitrick, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of education, toured the school.

Joslin has noticed many of his students learn better, and even improve in physical strength and height, when they receive proper nutrition.

McKitrick told students — many who came from Syria and other countries — that she also had to learn English when she was a youngster, since her first languages were French and Thai, after her family relocated to Thailand.

Many students at Fairview Elementary School come from families who are just starting out in Canada. Others come from other lower-income homes — or not. It doesn’t matter about socio-economic status. If a student wants a lunch he or she can get one in their classroom, said Nicola Golby, associate superintendent of learning services at the Red Deer Public School Division.

While there are other kinds of lunch programs provided in other schools, free food isn’t necessarily available to all students.

Golby added the advantage of Fairview’s universal food program, made possible with $250,000 in provincial funding, is it avoids the stigma of certain students having to walk to the front office to ask for a lunch when “everybody else has a lunch they can take out of their backpack.”

Equity is a big priority for the Red Deer Public Schools — and a component in reducing barriers, said Bev Manning, chair of the public school board.

“Some students come to school without the basic needs. It’s tough to learn when all you can think of is food,” said Manning. “But we’re grateful for the funding provided by the provincial government.”

The pilot program started last year, will continue at Fairview and 13 other schools in Alberta. The government announced it will reinvest in these schools, as well as provide funding to 48 public, separate and Francophone school authorities across the province to a total of $10 million.

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