On a given morning, any number of students might show up for something to eat at Courtenay Elementary Community School.
The school has been running a breakfast program for several years, and these days the school usually feeds around 30 kids out of a school population of approximately 200. Each morning, they have to be prepared, whether it’s five kids or 20 showing up.
“I come here every single day,” says Grade 5 student Tatty Longland.
Sitting next to her is Grade 2 student Ashlynn Foster, who’s wearing a cream cheese mustache courtesy of the bagel she’s eating.
“I’m, like, here every day too,” she says.
Longland and Foster like the “mostly healthy” food and visiting with others sitting around the big table in the centre of the room, discussing what’s healthy and what’s not, or the importance of hygiene and washing one’s hands before eating. To stress these ideas, the walls of the breakfast room are covered with posters and charts about the food pyramid and other important issues.
On this day, the two students are here in plenty of time to eat and still get to their classroom, but Longland adds they have time for other things too, like assisting the grown-ups overseeing the program
“When you’re done, you can help them … whatever they need help with,” she says. “I’m a helping person.”
Kitchen to get makeover
Several district schools feed kids lunch or breakfast, or both, on a regular basis, though not all schools have a formal program. School District 71 receives funding through CommunityLINK (Learning Includes Nutrition and Knowledge) and Breakfast Club of Canada. The Courtenay Elementary program recently got a boost, when in late January, the school received a $10,000 grant from the Comox Valley Community Foundation and the Rotary Club of Courtenay Foundation Fund, making it one of many recipients of the 2020 Community Enrichment and Professional Development grant to support children and youth.
As a news release states, the grant will help create a more user-friendly school kitchen and enhance the current feeding program offered to students, particularly the most vulnerable children. The upgrades expected include a commercial dishwasher, shelving, deeper sinks and movable islands to help with food preparation.
“There is a real beehive of activity,” Courtenay Elementary Community School Society executive director Shawn Thir said in the release. “The problem is there is not enough prep space to feed kids. And because the space is getting more and more use, the room needs to be reconfigured and equipped with a better dishwasher.”
There is also funding that helps cover educational assistant time because, while the hot lunch program is augmented by parent volunteers coming to help, staff cover for the morning program.
Some kids come by early for breakfast, arriving before 8:30 to visit and eat, while others might pop in to grab something before the bell rings.
“Other times, I’ll just bring kids down here,” principal Catherine Manson says. “We try to get everybody fed…. Food is a good regulator.”
Breakfast often consists of oatmeal or cereal, sometimes bagels or egg-wiches. Fresh fruit is also a big priority, as is clear from the big bowl of fruit and fruity snacks that Seth Lojstrup, Grade 3, is hauling around for other students.
Soup’s on for kids
At lunch on Monday, Courtenay Elementary is also one of the schools in a program where students are served homemade soup and bannock. Recently, LUSH Valley was successful in receiving renewed funding for the Vanier Soup Program for the next year’s programming from this April through to the end of March 2021.
“Vanier donates all the soup ingredients, and they’re in partnership with LUSH,” says Courtenay Elementary support worker Holly Douglas, who oversees the soup program.
The funding supports the purchase of food for the program, including local food, as well as some coordination efforts from LUSH to support local food purchases, deliveries and distribution of soup ingredients by volunteers.
At the school, Douglas and some students get the food ready on Mondays.
“She does enough soup to do one floor at a time,” Manson says.
Usually, Douglas has a couple of students help her in the morning to prepare the soup, a couple of others help make bannock and two more help serve the classes.
“It’s a great one-on-one for myself to be with the students, to help prepare the food,” she says. “It’s wonderful. We have great conversations, a really good connection.”
The school’s parent advisory council [PAC] wants to help out too, which in this situation would be a case of many hands making light work rather than too many cooks spoiling the broth.
“We’re hoping to involve PAC parents, so that we feed the whole school at once,” she says.
Salad days for school district
The school has also been focusing on sustainability, using its space for workshops by Tina Willard-Stepan, an environmental educator who works with Comox Strathcona Waste Management. These centre around sustainable practices and waste reduction when preparing healthy meals and snacks.
In addition to the breakfast or lunch programs, the district has a salad bar program at Lake Trail Middle School in partnership with the Lake Trail Community Education Society, Huband Park, Brooklyn and Ecole Robb Road. Mark R. Isfeld Secondary is the only secondary school salad bar. However, Vanier’s cafeteria offers salad, while Highland and Valley View are looking at options to introduce a salad bar program.
One of the aims of the food programs is to promote food literacy and healthy eating, but some like the breakfast program at Courtenay Elementary exist to help ensure kids, especially some who might not otherwise be eating, get a good start to the day and get them the energy they need for classwork.
Manson knows the kids who need the extra help, and she makes sure they get it when they walk through the door a little early in the morning.
“We do what we can,” says the principal. “We never turn them away.”