By Miriam Ostermann, Associate Editor
One of Strathmore’s elementary schools is reaping the benefits of the Alberta government’s pilot program that is funding nutrition programs at schools across the province.
Last year the province dished out $3.5 million in funding to introduce the nutrition pilot project for the 2016-2017 school year in 33 schools. While none of the schools in the Golden Hills School Division no. 75 were participants last year, the school board received approximately $140,000 used to implement the program at the Wheatland Crossing School for the current school year.
The expansion was made possible due to a project budget hike of $10 million.
“One of the really good things about the program is that it provides a nutrition program that reaches all kids and as a result we are not missing those kids that need it the most,” said Bevan Daverne, superintendent for Golden Hills School Division No. 75.
“With the downturn in the economy in Alberta we’ve seen the needs of students go up in a significant way, and even though it seems the economy is coming back a little bit we have not seen those needs go down significantly yet.”
According to the provincial government, students have shown to have increased energy and have shown to be able to focus better in class.
To date over 5,000 students have been affected by the program, and the 14 school boards that initially participated in the pilot project each received a $250,000 grant for this school year. The other 48 school boards, including the local school boards, received a cheque of $141,000.
“This program has been overwhelmingly positive in the communities where it’s already been introduced, and the results are quite impressive,” said Minister of Education David Eggen in a press release.
“We’ve seen improved student attendance, a decrease in negative behaviour and an increased sense of healthy food choices among students. The program is one of the ways we’re making life better for Alberta students.”
Schools receiving funds have to demonstrate how their program adheres to the Alberta Nutrition Guidelines for Children and Youth. In addition, each participant is required to include a nutrition education component in their program.
While Golden Hills School Division fosters relationships with community partners surrounding nutrition in their other schools, there’s not enough wiggle room in the local budget to allocate to the cause, rendering this pilot project very appealing.
“This is a very interesting pilot program to explore and to see how it impacts kids and our learners, because we certainly want our students to have enough nutrition so they can come to school and focus on their learning,” said Daverne. “Because from our perspective that is the critical thing. And this program certainly has an impact that way.”
Two-hundred Kindergarten to Grade 6 students currently partake in the nutrition program at Wheatland Crossing School.
Alberta Education continues its discussions with researchers, community partners, and other representatives about the program and its future benefits and implications.