On the lower level of Bishop Grandin High School is the Diverse Learning classroom, which serves as a learning space and a retreat for students in that program. Their teachers are devoted to these students and know them well. They can talk about everything from the kids’ academic needs and daily schedules to their personal lives—but what emerges again and again is these students’ capacity for kindness.
Two Diverse Learning students, Nicholas, 18, and Zack, 15, are devoted to helping peers. Each day, the boys help to pack and distribute lunches to students who would otherwise go without.
A peer-to-peer program
The program is a collaboration between Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids, the diverse learning students, the guidance office, homeroom teachers and the school’s Culinary Arts Program. It also depends on word-of-mouth. “Students bring their peers here,” says Nicholas and Zack’s teacher. “It’s a very safe place [the students] have created.”
The students’ participation is integrated with the Alberta curriculum as a component of the Health and Life Skills program of study. To prepare and provide lunches, maintain high hygiene standards and account for allergies is no small responsibility.
Some Diverse Learning students are also taking Culinary Arts, a program run by chef Scott, who spent more than twenty years in professional kitchens before pursuing his teaching degree. When he arrived at the school five years ago, he oversaw the installation of a commercial kitchen just up the hall from the Diverse Learning classroom.
Scott’s students, dressed in chef’s whites, plan menus, calculate margins, prepare meals from scratch and sell them each day in the cafeteria. They also help to prepare the brown bag lunches that Nicholas and Zack distribute.
A cooperative effort
Bishop Grandin teachers have been cooperating to provide meals for students since Scott arrived at the school five years ago and learned there were students in need. “When they’re thinking about their stomachs they’re not thinking about school,” he says.
The Diverse Learning teachers say they make a connection with every student who accesses the lunch program, and every student says thank you. “It’s not a free lunch, it’s a provided lunch. It’s an entirely different relationship from saying, ‘Let me buy you lunch.’”
Making lunches provides an excellent learning opportunity and necessary community-support, but to Nicholas the benefits are more personal. “It feels good to help someone who doesn’t have a lunch.”