Kids not getting enough time to eat at school, parent survey finds

A survey of close to 700 parents in the Prince George area has found that primary school-age children are not being given enough time to eat their lunches.

The survey, carried out by the Prince George District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC), found that 47 per cent of kids rarely or never had a chance to finish their food. Parents indicated that 57 per cent of kids were always hungry after school, while 79 per cent were either always, often or sometimes tired after school. Lack of time was the main reason parents identified for kids not finishing their lunches.

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The online survey began Nov. 4 and included responses from 33 of the 41 schools in the district. Forty-eight per cent of respondents had children in Grade 1 to 3, while 20 per cent had children in kindergarten and 20 per cent had children in Grade 4 or 5.

The findings of the survey were presented by DPAC treasurer Sarah Holland to School District 57 trustees at a meeting Tuesday night.

Holland read several comments received from parents as she presented the findings.

"One big comment was talking about time and nutrition. Fifteen minutes is not an adequate time for young children to eat a meal, especially with no adult supervision. Children are not being given the simple respect at the time that they need to eat properly. They are being taught to wolf down their meals."

Andrea Beckett, whose seven-year old daughter attends cole College Heights elementary, is a PAC representative for that school. She helped design the survey after she began to notice her daughter's behaviour at home was being affected by the short lunch period.

"It was always a fight," she said in a phone interview.

"When she'd come home, I'd open her lunchbox up and half of it would still be there."

Beckett noticed that her daughter would return home irritable and grumpy.

"I would try to pack stuff that was quicker to eat. I thought that they could take it outside and eat it on their hand. Turns out they don't get to take their lunch out with them," she said.

The survey included several suggestions of possible improvements to the lunch-hour, including switching the recess period to be first, followed by a lunch period. Beckett said that several schools in the Lower Mainland have tried this approach with significant success.

According to school board chair Tim Bennett, the school lunch hours typically are held over a 45-minute period. Although schools often have flexibility over their lunch schedule, children usually have 15 minutes allocated to a supervised lunch, followed by 30 minutes of unstructured recess or playtime. He said that supervision of these 45-minute lunch periods are often governed by collective agreements with teachers and support staff.

Other considerations, such as requirements for the number of daily instructional minutes, are regulated by the Ministry of Education.

"A lot of things go into consideration of how a school day is built," said Bennett.

Joanne Hapke, president of the Prince George Teachers Association, said the collective agreement with the district prohibits teachers from being required to perform supervisory duty during their lunch hour. However, teachers frequently have have other duties that they perform during their lunch period.

"Within the lunch hour, there will often be committee meetings within the school that happen during that time. If we have to get in touch with parents or other district personnel, that's the time to be making those phone calls. [There is] our own lunch that we have to eat, as well as continuing to prepare for the afternoon," Hapke said.

Lunch-time supervision is performed by education assistants, whose lunch hours are governed by another union, CUPE Local 3742. The Citizen was not able to reach a Local 3742 representative by deadline Wednesday.

Bennett said that school trustees will be considering the results of the DPAC survey and will be examining suggested changes. However, changes to student lunch hours are unlikely to be implemented before the fall of 2018.

"I think it's probably very realistic to say that there's not much that's going to be able to change this school year because things are already set," Bennett said.

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