Education Minister David Eggen, Premier Rachel Notley and Health Minister Sarah Hoffman visit with students at Our Lady of Peace School in Edmonton during an event to announce the government’s expanded school nutrition program.
ATA president applauds long-awaited program
The provincewide expansion of a school nutrition pilot is welcome news to teachers, said Alberta Teachers’ Association president Mark Ramsankar.
The government’s spring budget included $10 million that will enable all the province’s publicly funded school boards to access funding in order to provide their students with meals or snacks during the 2017/18 school year. The money is a boost to a $3.5 million, 14-school pilot program that began last fall.
“I applaud this effort,” Ramsankar said. “Students can’t learn when they’re hungry. This is something teachers see every day in their classrooms, so I’m pleased that the government is taking action.”
In 1993 the Alberta Teachers’ Association first adopted a policy urging the province to fund school nutrition programs and such a program was part of the NDP platform during the 2015 election – although the platform called for a phase in of funding that would reach $60 million by 2017–18.
Ramsankar noted that the needs of Alberta students extend beyond academics and meeting those needs helps ensure students receive the best possible K–12 experience.
“The Association will always welcome initiatives that focus on students’ very real needs, which are varied and complex,” he said.
Alberta Education figures suggest that the pilot nutrition program has provided a daily meal or snack to more than 5,000 students in 33 schools.
With the announced expansion, the 14 school boards that are participating in the pilot this school year will each receive $250,000 to continue the program in the 2017/18 school year. The remaining 46 school boards will each receive $141,000 to implement the program. School boards must demonstrate how their program adheres to the Alberta Nutrition Guidelines for Children and Youth and must include a nutrition education component as part of the program.
Alberta Education will hold a series of discussions with community partners, researchers and other representatives about the nutrition program’s rollout to date and how it can be strengthened.
“It’s been incredible to witness the unique and innovative approaches that school boards have taken to implement the program and the resulting impact it is having in the classroom,” said Education Minister David Eggen.
“I’m excited for this next phase as we continue to meet the basic needs of our students, while charting the path towards a nutrition program model that is sustainable for schools.”
Two Edmonton Catholic schools are part of the pilot nutrition program. School board chair Laura Thibert said the program has provided students with healthy choices that they’ve benefitted from at school and even beyond.
“Students have also learned how to carry over those healthy choices into their home lives,” she said. ❚