For the Paced Learning Program students at Jack James High School, making sandwiches for hungry schoolmates has benefits that go beyond nutrition.
The southeast Calgary school has an active approach to helping its PLP students — who face a range of learning challenges — acquire life skills to set them up for future success.
In addition, a number of students at the school face difficulties in their home lives, leaving them needing nourishment during the day.
“We have some kids here who really need this,” says Phyllis Horne, educational assistant at Jack James. “But kids do amazingly when they have food in their stomachs.”
The PLP students are also thriving, as making about 30 sandwiches a day for their fellow students through the Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids program is part of a range of hands-on learning experiences that equip them for adult life. About 20 students are involved on a daily basis.
“We have them treat it like a job — they need to come in on time, use proper hygiene and procedures, and speak to each other in a workplace-appropriate way,” Horne says. “The skills they learn here can go on their resumés. It’s something they can take with them and say, ‘yes, I have experience.’”
The students also learn about food storage, cleaning and dishwashing. A washing machine and dryer were recently installed adjacent to the kitchen area, so the students can get experience in doing laundry as well.
“These are skills for life as well as employability,” says Horne, shown in photo with, from left, PLP teacher Ron Robinson and educational assistant Debbie Hornby.
The healthy ingredients used to prepare lunches for the students who need them are provided by Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids via a monthly supply of grocery gift cards. Horne looks after the shopping, ensuring the school’s refrigerator and pantry are well stocked.
Interestingly, there’s significant crossover between those who make the sandwiches and those who receive them, as students’ needs change because of their life situations.
“I used to help make lunches, but now my dad got laid off and I have to use the Brown Bag program, which I am thankful for,” says Grade 12 student Nickole. “There isn’t enough food at home, but my mom does cook a big meal for supper every night.”
Michelle, also in Grade 12, has been making BB4CK lunches for the last three years, and now needs the lunches herself. “I think we help out a lot of kids who don’t have food at home. Right now, it’s helping me,” she adds. “I live with my grandma and little sister, and my grandma’s pension doesn’t go very far because of the high rent. I got a job at Safeway last year, and I buy groceries for her sometimes — which she doesn’t know,” Michelle explains.
“Having lunch from the Brown Bagging program has helped me lots. I’m focused and I learn so much better with food in my stomach.”
For 17-year-old Colby, having a healthy meal has helped to overcome hurdles that might have stopped a less-determined person. “While I was in Grade 10, my dad passed away. My mom was having a hard time making ends meet, and I had the opportunity to get a Brown Bag lunch during that time until things got better at home. If I didn’t have lunch, I would be tired and hungry, and couldn’t focus in class.”
Colby is graduating this year, something he’s not sure he would have been able to accomplish without the BB4CK program.
Sean, 16, lived in a homeless shelter at age 14 and knows how important a decent meal is. That’s why he finds making sandwiches for his fellow students so rewarding.
“When you’re hungry, you can’t learn,” he says. “Having enough to eat means a better education, and a better life.”
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