Carrie Lundgren

Children in poverty: Breakfast programs help children focus on school

NANAIMO – Nutrition helps children improve in school, both academically and socially.

While the Harbour City is no stranger to child poverty, there are supports to help students overcome the adverse effects.

According to Dr. Paul Hasselback, Island Health medical health officer for central Vancouver Island, the children who are living in poverty are less likely to be successful, to complete school and more likely to have school failure issues.

A recent report from the Nanaimo-Ladysmith Schools Foundation, the charity assisting disadvantaged school children in the area, said approximately one in five school children live in poverty in the school district.

Among the hurdles faced is attempting to learn with an empty stomach.

“No doubt that the child who comes to school, who is hungry, is going to not have the same level of attention,” said Hasselback. “Kids who are hungry and not attentive may be more disruptive. They may have more behavioural issues in the classroom … so not only does this become an issue for the child, it becomes an issue for the classroom itself.”

When supports, such as breakfast programs, are in place, Hasselback said learning outcomes increase, children are more attentive and behavioural problems decrease.

“The whole classroom benefits from having good, quality nutrition breakfast options available to everyone in the classroom,” said Hasselback.

Poverty seriesWith a mandate to support needy students in the district, one of the schools foundation’s supports include the provision of breakfast programs, according to Crystal Dennison, the foundation’s new executive director.

The foundation receives a grant from Breakfast Club of Canada, which allows for breakfast programs at eight schools – Fairview, Park Avenue, Forest Park, Brechin, Nanaimo District Secondary, John Barsby Secondary, Bayview and Georgia Avenue.

Along with proper nutrition, access to other educational essentials are provided to needy students in Nanaimo schools through the foundation’s student support fund. Dennison said the money is discretionary and can go toward anything from running shoes to school supplies.

“It’s all done through each individual school,” said Dennison. “We feel that the staff within the schools are able to best determine where the needs lie and so we leave that up to them.”

So while Nanaimo does have a reputation for high incidences of child poverty, there are supports in place to rectify the situation. Still, more can be done, especially at a governmental level, said Hasselback.

“At a provincial level, places like Ontario and Newfoundland have demonstrated real benefit by provincial poverty reduction plans,” Hasselback said. “B.C. is the only province that does not have a poverty reduction plan or a process in place to get a poverty reduction plan.”

However, Hasselback said some B.C. communities, such as New Westminster, are implementing community types of poverty reduction activities, to some success.

Communities that address economic disparities are more likely to be thriving and successful, he said.

Hasselback talks about child poverty at a forum at Beban Park social centre Thursday (Jan. 22) at 1 p.m.

For more information, please call 250-751-0326.

Poverty affects thousands of city’s children is the next story in our series.

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