School breakfast helps kids learn: Beedie researchers

School breakfast can offer pupils opportunities for positive social interaction.

Poverty among school-aged children remains an ongoing concern in Canada. However, positive results from a breakfast program at a local Burnaby elementary school could indicate an important step towards resolving this problem.

From October 2014 until June 2015, Douglas Road Elementary in Burnaby has offered the Breakfast Club program for all students.

During this period, 83 out of 255 students were enrolled in the program, and roughly 1,820 meals were served.

Andrew Gemino, associate dean, and Ben Tan, research assistant of the SFU Beedie School, conducted a study into the cost-benefit of this program.

“Initially, a lot of folks were under the impression that everyone was well-fed,” said Gemino.

Unfortunately, even in Canada children are often coming to school hungry or without having eaten a proper breakfast. Canada is the only G8 country that doesn’t have a national school meal program. Education is managed on a provincial level. As a result, breakfast programs are typically funded by private, corporate, and public donors, Gemino and Tan explained.

The Breakfast Club program at Douglas Road Elementary was founded with the support of Mary-Ann Brown, principal of the school, and Burnaby School District 41, along with The Vancouver Sun‘s Adopt-A-School program and a private donation from Ryan Beedie and the Beedie Development Group, led by Mason Bennett.

When they conducted their survey in December 2015, there was positive feedback from both the staff and the students. With the Breakfast Club in place, there was a 22 percent increase in participating students’ attendance — likely due to students arriving early for breakfast, and as a result arriving on time for class.

About 86 percent of staff members said they would recommend the breakfast program to new students and staff who come into the school.

Many students have commented they were excited to be a part of the program, and enjoyed the fact the there was another option for food. The openness of the program for all students also meant that many students were able to bring friends to join them for breakfast.

In an interview with The Peak, Gemino and Tan mentioned that the Breakfast Club was an excellent way to bring people together, get them to talk to each other, and ultimately make them feel welcome within the community.

In their report, a summary of other research studies have indicated that breakfast programs offer positive effects on the students’ nutrition, cognition, and behaviour.

“[But] there was more to this than just nutrition,” remarked Gemino.

They found that this program has the potential of changing the way students viewed themselves and interacted socially.  Furthermore, the program could help generate a more positive attitude towards the school environment, making the school seem less intimidating, and ultimately helping the students determine what school means for them.

Gemino and Tan both agreed that people should be aware of and support programs such as the Breakfast Club.

“There’s potential for this to be greater than it is,” said Gemino. “The program is a good start and probably the best start.”

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