Premier Rachel Notley has no doubt a $10-million expansion of Alberta’s school nutrition program will pay dividends for students and, as a result, the province.
Even with Alberta’s economy in rough shape, Notley said the investment goes to the heart of creating a supportive community.
“I would challenge anyone to tell me that there are other things that money could be better spent on, because I just don’t think that there is much they could come up with,” she said.
The cash extends the program to all 60 school boards in Alberta, Notley announced Wednesday at Our Lady of Peace School in Edmonton.
It’s the next phase in a $3.5-million pilot program launched in Calgary in November under the government’s Future Ready banner — an initiative that co-ordinates training from kindergarten to employment.
Fourteen school divisions took part in the original pilot — 10 rural and four urban — based on greatest need as determined by socio-economic data from Statistics Canada. Each picked one school to participate.
As a result, more than 5,000 students have been receiving a nutritious meal or snack each day.
Now the remaining 46 school boards in the province will each receive a $141,000 grant to implement the program.
“Even in a place as rich as Alberta, kids come to school hungry quite regularly,” Notley said.
“It’s a pretty easy problem to fix and it makes profound changes to the success of those kids and the culture of the school if everybody’s able to have that basic security of nutrition and good meals when they’re at school.”
Nutrition education key
Schools in the program don’t just give out a snack or meal — they must include a nutrition education component and demonstrate how their program adheres to Alberta nutrition guidelines.
Our Lady of Peace was part of the pilot program, starting up a lunch program for all students in February.
Cheryl Shinkaruk, program co-ordinator at Edmonton Catholic Schools, said teachers are seeing calmer students who are able to self-regulate.
“They have had the right foods to eat and they’re ready to learn in the classroom,” Shinkaruk said Wednesday.
Some children come to school with a lunch consisting of a can of pop and bag of chips, she said, so the division has also focused on educating parents about healthier food choices.
Notley said making sure kids are well fed is a fundamental issue.
“Investing in education and investing in our kids is an investment in our future,” she said.
Introducing a school lunch program to reduce child hunger was part of the NDP’s 2015 election platform.