Free food to fill bellies will help kids learn - principal

Last updated 05:00 11/09/2012
Lunchboxes at a decile 10 and a decile 1 school
Fairfax NZ
TUMMY FILLERS: In lunchboxes at Khandallah School are, from left, focaccia bread, grapes and crackers; and yoghurt, apple bagel bites and a sandwich. Sandwiches were far more common at Russell School, with fillings such as egg or Nutella.

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It's not quite dry bread v deli boxes, but the packed lunches of pupils at a decile 1 and a decile 10 school are markedly different - simple sandwiches at Russell School in Cannons Creek, while fruit, biscuits, treats and focaccia bread feature at Khandallah School.

Russell School in Porirua is the "face of poverty", its principal says, and she supports Labour leader David Shearer's $10 million plan to provide free food to 650 of the lowest-decile schools.

Sose Annandale said at least six pupils a day came to the 140-pupil school in Cannons Creek with no lunch, and teachers kept a record so that charity assistance could be offered if a child arrived too often without food.

Her mantra was "no child will ever go hungry". But the school relied solely on volunteers and donations to provide breakfast - of porridge, Weet-Bix, toast or beans, and eggs - to between 14 and 40 otherwise hungry pupils.

Parents were working as hard as they could, but her pupils were lucky to get a small, white bread sandwich in their lunch boxes every day.

"I'm a principal who really believes that, if kids don't have full bellies, they won't learn."

Mr Shearer's proposal - which also includes one-on-one reading and maths tuition for an extra 5000 children - was "absolutely fantastic", she said.

"It just means we can focus on what we're meant to be doing, and that's teaching and learning. [But] I'm thinking, how is he going to fund that?"

It cost about $70 to $100 for the school breakfast club's weekly shopping bill alone, she said.

At present, KidsCan charity supplied lunches for those most in need, and the Government provided a piece of fruit a day for pupils. But relying on charity meant lower-decile schools were vulnerable if they decided to pull out.

"I can't consistently be relying on charity," Ms Annandale said.

At the other end of the scale, Khandallah School principal Louise Green said her decile 10 school was blessed that all 380 pupils came fed and with lunches.

"You can debate the rights and wrongs of who is to blame and why it is happening but, if we want children to learn, a full tummy is so important.”

Nutrition Foundation dietician Sarah Hanrahan said lunch items could vary, but needed to include foods high in fibre, protein, and carbohydrate, and fruit or vegetables.

There should be a "good lunchbox full", but it was important to include things children were sure to eat.

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Otago University human nutrition and poverty associate professor Winsome Parnell said a 2002 survey that she had helped the Health Ministry with, found that 5, 6 and 7-year-olds had "pretty good" diets.

She was concerned that a blanket provision of food to lower-decile schools would erode parental responsibility.

Parents should be given the means and dignity to feed their children, she said.

"The Government should be making sure families can afford to feed their children themselves.

"It's just a bit more complicated than what David Shearer is presenting it as, I think."

- The Dominion Post

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