Fostering Togetherness in Programs!

An important aspect to school food programs is the support and togetherness they help to build in the school community. Meals and breakfast programs represent a social gathering space that can inspire feelings of belonging and community that are beneficial to the learning environment (Healthy Schools BC, 2014).

This year, the social distancing guidelines in place may be protecting students and staff, but they are also posing a challenge to the connectedness of the school community. After all, how do you bring students together while keeping them apart?

Many programs across Canada are seeking ways to increase school spirit while complying with these new restrictions. Initially, the Grande Prairie School Snacks Program switched from student-accessed community fridges to a system where meals were made available in the office upon request. However, they quickly identified that students were less comfortable eating breakfast at school with their new socially distanced service method. Fewer students were eating breakfast at the schools served by the Snack Program. The program leaders saw the reluctance and reduced attendance as a symptom of the stigma associated with child hunger.

 

“Once students had to start to ask for food items, it created a stigma.”
— Kari Pritchard, Executive Director, Grande Prairie & District Catholic Schools Education Foundation

 

The Grande Prairie Schools Snack Program uses a larger, centralized kitchen to provide breakfast to 12 schools that serve over 100,000 meals each year. Previously, the program delivered breakfasts once a week to community fridges at each school. Students accessed the fridges themselves, whenever they wanted. Since the community fridges would be an unsafe touchpoint in the current situation, the schools switched to a system based on students asking for breakfast in the office.

When it became apparent that the new program model was negatively affecting the school communities, the Snack Program took action to reduce the stigma experienced by students by changing their delivery system.

The Grande Prairie Schools Snack Program found a solution to this problem by re-creating their menu to suit classroom bins that would still be filled once per week. The bins have a selection of nutritious foods that are shelf-stable for one week or more. Their menu includes baked goods like muffins, cranberry oatmeal cookies and cheese buns; healthy snacks like their “monster mix”; and fresh fruits like oranges and grapes. By bringing food into the daily routine and into the classroom, the program has normalized eating breakfast at school. Since the change, more students have felt comfortable accessing extra food in the office, making participation in the school breakfast program more acceptable.

 

“I feel that by offering the classroom bins the students feel more comfortable with accessing food at the office as well.”
— Kari Pritchard, Executive Director, Grande Prairie & District Catholic Schools Education Foundation

 

It is important to consider that there are many ways to engage a school community, and breakfast programs are not “one size fits all.” Each school community has responded to problems arising from the new social distancing restrictions with creative, innovative solutions that help make their breakfast programs a success!

 

 

References

Healthy Schools BC. (2014). School Connectedness What does the evidence say? Retrieved from www.healthyschoolsbc.ca/schoolconnectedness.

Activating Change Together for Community Food Security. (2014). Making Food Matter: Strategies for Activating Change Together. Halifax, NS: Food Action Research Centre (FoodARC), Mount Saint Vincent University.

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