Schools feed growing brains

MONICA TISCHLER
Last updated 05:00 16/10/2012
Che Stockenstroon and Bethany Wakelin
MONICA TISCHLER
FULL TUMMIES: Pomaria Primary School students, left, Che Stockenstroon, 10, and Bethany Wakelin, 10, enjoy receiving fruit as part of the Fruit in Schools Programme at their school.

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Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Give him the rod and you'll feed him for life.

That's the message Pomaria Primary School principal Kevin Choromanski says is key when addressing the issue of children coming to school with no food.

"It's important to educate communities as well around what constitutes a substantial meal for a child to be able to come to school and perform at their peak," he says.

Low decile schools like Pomaria will benefit if Labour Party leader David Shearer's proposal to introduce free food to primary and intermediate schools of decile 1 to 3, with the help of community and voluntary organisations becomes policy.

The policy is expected to cost $5 million to $18m a year.

"For those who say the country can't afford this, I have a clear message for them; we can't afford not to," Mr Shearer says.

"The cost of kids falling out of school and into the dole queue, or worse, the court room, are far greater."

Mr Choromanski, also chairman of the West Auckland Principals Association, feels it's often the expectation that the school needs to make changes. But it's important that families also break bad habits at home.

"That's where some of the education needs to take place, not just at a school level, but also back into the community level."

Pomaria School has run a breakfast programme with the help of Elim Church and Church Unlimited for the past four years.

Fonterra and Sanitarium give cereal and milk to the school so hungry students can enjoy a substantial breakfast three times a week.

The school also runs a government funded Fruit in Schools programme which ensures each student is given a piece of fruit at lunch.

"A few of our parents, like many around New Zealand, are experiencing financial constraints, and for us to provide our children with a breakfast, for those who actually need it, is successful," Mr Choromanski says.

"Research shows unless children have a decent meal, we can't expect them to concentrate and work to their full potential. A child that's fed is definitely more attentive in class. They have more energy and the ability to concentrate longer. It does have an impact on the child's learning."

Waitakere College principal Mark Shanahan offers breakfast and lunch clubs to students who need it, but admits it's difficult with adolescents.

"Sometimes for teenagers, it's the shame of coming to school without a lunch or breakfast because as teenagers, they become aware of what others think of them," he says.

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During end of the year NCEA exams Waitakere College will offer a barbecue lunch to ensure no student sits an exam on an empty stomach.

Prime Minister John Key says the free food proposal isn't necessary.

"Not every school wants a child to be provided with a free lunch. There are many families that can provide those lunches. But what we need to have is a mechanism to make sure that if a child is hungry, there is food provided. In my experience, most of those decile 1 to 3 schools have that and are dealing with the issue," he says.

- Western Leader

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