Food for thought at Jennie Emery

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Dylan Campbell, left, and Killian Erick man the toasters on the Jennie Emery Elementary School breakfast carts, while ‘runner’ Jesse Hale helps out in the background.

COALDALE – Getting kids up for school can be challenge. On this morning, however, Jesse Hale and his crew arrive early at Jennie Emery Elementary School – by choice.

“I like helping out,” says the Grade 3 student, one of four volunteers on the day’s schedule for the school’s breakfast program. “I help my mom make pancakes at home too.”

Students line up five or six deep at each of the two breakfast carts wheeled out into the atrium at Jennie Emery prior to the first bell of the day. On the menu, today and every day, is toast with jam or Wowbutter, fruit, yogurt and cheese.

For years the staff found the means to provide hungry students with something to eat, as needed. After a survey revealed 10 per cent of the school population wasn’t starting out their day with breakfast, Jennie Emery applied for and received funding through Breakfast for Learning and other sources to offer a formal nutrition program last year.

The school recently welcomed a significant community donation towards both the breakfast program and its Leader in Me program. Jennie Emery found a fitting way to tie the two programs together.

“We call it, ‘Put First Things First,’ as in getting breakfast before you learn,” says Vice-Principal Kristi Van Doesburg, adding Grade 3 and 4 students learn leadership skills through volunteer work on the breakfast crew.

Between 30 and 50 students make use of Jennie Emery’s breakfast program on any given day. The importance of  program isn’t lost on Killian Erick.

“If we didn’t have a breakfast program, then people would be hungry going to class and at recess they wouldn’t have any energy,” says the Grade 4 student.

While Hale filled the role of ‘runner’ on this day, replenishing supplies as needed, Erick joined Dylan Campbell on toaster duty.

“Possibly. . . spreading,” says Grade 4 student Campbell, when asked of his favourite job on the breakfast crew. “Because I like making breakfast for my sister at home too.”

After signing up the student-volunteers are trained how to use the toasters, manage the lines of students, handle food safely, and proper cleaning procedures. They also learn organizational skills such as serving up first the yogurt tubes with the nearest expiry dates, says Van Doesburg, and time management skills by getting to school early.

Jennie Emery looked at nutrition programs offered at other Palliser schools to find a model that would work best for their students.

The vice-principal says it was important to be as inclusive as possible, because there’s more than just socio-economic reasons why children aren’t eating breakfast before they get to school. Some have sports and other commitments first thing in the morning, and others have to get up early to ride the bus and might not be hungry upon waking.

“And some of them just need an extra something in the morning and we didn’t want to eliminate those kids either,” says Van Doesburg.

Among the other Palliser schools with nutrition programs are Milo and Arrowwood community schools, Barons School, Dorothy Dalgliesh School in Picture Butte, Noble Central School, Vulcan Prairieview Elementary School, Kate Andrews High School in Coaldale and Coalhurst High School.

The breakfast program wouldn’t be possible at Jennie Emery without the support of community-minded partners like Dennis and Julie Overweg.

The Overwegs, who own the local excavating company Dennis’ Dirtworx, raised $13,675 through various fundraisers for the school’s breakfast and Leader in Me programs. Julie and sister-in-law Lisa were recognized at a recent school assembly, where Van Doesburg called them a great example of what it means to be a leader.

The couple, who have four children with the eldest now in kindergarten at Jennie Emery, donated to the breakfast program the year prior as well. Julie says their involvement was sparked after viewing a TV newscast about a breakfast program for needy students at a school elsewhere.

“He looked at me with shock in his eyes. He had no idea that was even a thing,” says Julie. “When he asked if Kaylie’s school had a breakfast program and I said ‘yes,’ he said he would help them out every year.”

Julie, who is also a skilled woodworker, is also working on buddy benches for the school. The benches are a meeting spot on the playground for those who don’t have someone to play with.