Friday, January 15, 2010

The Importance Of A Good Breakfast

When I was a kid starting out my day with a good breakfast was just part of the daily routine. It was something I could count on, like the rising and setting of the sun. As an adult, I must admit I've grown a bit lazy when it comes to starting off the day with a good morning meal. Ultimately, if I feel hungry mid-morning I can only blame my own stupidity. Sadly, a good breakfast is far from a reality for many children, as this news item here reminds us.

I taught at a couple different schools in Nunavut and in both their were breakfast programs, funded predominantly by the Brighter Futures program cited in the above-mentioned news item. At the time, I was under the impression that only school's in Nunavut's smaller, de-centralized communities had breakfast programs. A fellow Nunavut blogger once pointed out to me though, that this is not the case. All communities can benefit with a breakfast program but not all can afford to fully fund them. (I know one Nunavut politician made a fully-funded territory-wide breakfast program a major plank in his campaign during the last territorial election.) One might think that as Nunavut's largest community (and capital) Iqaluit wouldn't have a need for a breakfast program, given the amount of employment available there in relation to say Qikiqtarjuaq or Arctic Bay. Just not the case, as it turns out.

It needs to be pointed out that this is not just a Nunavut issue. I'm sure you could find students in major centres like Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto (or any other Canadian city for that matter) that come to school on a daily basis without eating breakfast. Here in Janvier, we are fortunate to have a breakfast (and lunch) program at our school. It is generously funded by the oil companies. (The same companies which the protesters at the recent climate talks in Copenhagen say should simply pack up shop and leave Wood Buffalo. Ah, if only life were that simple.)

As a teacher and now a parent, this is an issue of some interest to me of course. I hear the argument that kids function well with something in their stomachs so it is important for schools to ensure a good start for their students. I hear that argument that parents have a responsibility to feed their kids and society shouldn't be burdened by the irresponsibility of parents. I hear many different arguments and often get it from both sides. While Tamara and Nicholas don't rely on the breakfast program to anything close to the extent of other children (teachers are well paid, despite what some would have you believe), we are thankful for the lunch program. It's not that we are unable to feed the kids, but rather its an issue of how the lunch hour at the school here is structured: 15 minutes for lunch followed by a 15-minute recess doesn't give enough time for the kids to get home, eat and back to the school.

As a teacher, I'm conscious of the fact that it seems that school are increasingly called upon to do more and more on top of educating. This is a tough issue for me. Part of me believes strongly in the idea of personal responsibility yet I have to acknowledge that when there is a well-run breakfast program in place, the classroom is full of happier, more alert students. I'm not sure that I really add anything coherent or original to this issue. The CBC article does remind me of how fortunate we are to be living here in Alberta.


Anna said...

I am a strong supporter of breakfast programs. It is difficult to focus on anything but your stomach if you are hungry. Yes, it is taking away the responsibility of the parent(s) but should we punish children for their parent's decisions over which they have no control? Maybe the elders could make bannock to be given for breakfasts ? In my classroom in Rankin Inlet I had a kettle and we made a mid morning snack every day. I had a class of girls and we made pancakes and bannock in home ec for these snacks. Most schools up there have some kind of home ec/cooking class.

Jason said...

Teachers are hesitant to take on more because the employer rarely removes anything. Many schools do not have focused goals and everyone in the building is trying to do everything. If schools who do not have lunch programs decide to start one, then the admin should be willing to let "something go." Admin should have an "instead of" attitude rather than an "add-on" attitude.

My two cents.

Way Way Up said...

Anna, I was fortunate while teaching in Nunavut in that both communities I taught in had breakfast programs. I'll be blunt in saying that the amount of neglect I witnessed there when it comes to providing for kids really does border on the criminal. One year a room mate of mine, new to the North, recounted how he had bumped into one of his students in the Northern and begged for some pop tarts because he hadn't eaten a proper meal in 3 days. My room mate gave him the entire box of pop tarts and the poor kid wolfed them down as fast as he could cram them in his mouth.

Jason, I agree 100%. Schools must have clear goals in place. Without elaborating too much, I will say that I have worked in a few schools (not necessarily in Nunavut) that did not have clear goals and the results were very predictable. As I mentioned in my post, my fiance and I feel very fortunate there is a well-funded lunch program in place here.