Midday rumbling stomachs will be no more for some Northland students supplied with a free healthy school lunch.
Almost 15,000 primary, intermediate and high school students across the region will have a free healthy school lunch next term courtesy of the Healthy School Lunches programme.
The Ka Ora, Ka Ako/ Healthy School Lunches Programme was a 2020 Government initiative to deliver a free and healthy daily school lunch to Years 1-8 students with high levels of disadvantage.
In response to the Covid pandemic, the programme is being expanded to reach around 960 schools delivering lunches to almost 215,000 (25 per cent of all) school children by the end of 2021, including secondary students. A number of Northland schools are joining the programme next term, bringing the total to 89 and impacting 14,997 students.
The 89 Northland schools include 56 in the Far North, 12 in Kaipara and 21 in Whangārei. School deciles are not used as a measure of need for the programme and some of the schools include Pompallier Catholic and Mangonui Schools in the north, along with Pouto School in the west and Kamo High, Morningside and Ruakākā Schools in the Whangārei district.
Raurimu Avenue School has been with the programme since the beginning of the year and teacher Celia Paul said there had been a noticeable change in students over the last seven weeks.
"Here at Raurimu Avenue School, we have noticed that students are far more ready for learning after lunchtime. Previously, students would return to class lethargic or overactive due to sugary foods filled with preservatives and enhancers, which has, in the past, had a huge impact on student focus and behaviour.
''Lunches in schools provides equality throughout the school, opportunities to discover healthier food options and energy levels of students are being sustained as their hunger and nutritional needs are being met."
Student Kohatu Dunn, 11, was tucking into his chicken and lettuce nachos and sliced oranges yesterday and declared: "These are the most delicious in the world."
Ministry of Education sector enablement and support deputy secretary Katrina Casey said the programme is targeted to the 25 per cent of students who are facing the greatest socioeconomic barriers, which could affect their education, wellbeing and achievement.
"The main tool used to determine which schools are eligible is the Equity Index. This estimates the extent to which each child grows up in socioeconomically disadvantaged circumstances that we know to be associated with their likelihood of achieving in education. The index looks at a full basket of factors in a child's life, not any one factor, to understand the socioeconomic barriers present in a school's community. For example, family circumstances, income, number of home and school changes, and more.
"Ministry staff working directly with the schools and kura also provide qualitative insights based on the needs and character of the school. We also consider the impact on nearby schools and any likelihood of students moving between schools to access lunches. School deciles are not used as a measure of need for this programme."
The programme was launched in February last year to help tackle child poverty, improve youth wellbeing and learning and boost local economies with schools contracting their own suppliers. It has since served up over three million lunches, and reached double its target number of students in the first year.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said: "Providing a daily nutritious lunch is one way we can help ease pressure on the household budget and ensure our tamariki don't miss out on learning because they're hungry.
"Growing the programme now further supports families to meet their living costs, and provides an economic boost throughout the whole community, employing local people and spending in local economies.
"School lunches impact the whole supply chain, from local growers to delivery drivers, to the local businesses and community organisations that are preparing lunches and supplying schools. Over 942 jobs have already been generated by the programme and it is estimated that around 2000 jobs will be created by the end of 2021.
"The programme has been a huge success and we're excited to roll it out further."