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Breens Intermediate School

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We are seeing changes around the school, with students discussing healthy lunch options with us and being proud of bringing and eating healthy food.

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Teacher

The school ethos and organisation

Gradual changes are making Breens Intermediate School a healthier place. Teachers had become concerned about the unhealthy food sold in the school’s canteen, the poor food choices available at lunchtimes, students’ lack of concentration during the afternoons, and the litter around the school.

Healthy lunch.

The school recognises the need to provide consistent messages by modelling healthy eating practices and interacting with students in ways that support classroom teaching.

Students are encouraged to eat bread or fruit during the 10am break, which follows a 20-minute physical activity session. They are also encouraged to eat healthy snacks during the other three breaks of the day, and some teachers actively discourage students from eating unhealthy food. Lunch is eaten in classrooms, supervised by teachers.

Curriculum programmes

Yoghurt.

As part of their health class, year 7 students recorded their healthy homework goals in “Success Journals”. These goals involved such things as eating 5ADay, having a healthy lunch, and/or undertaking regular physical activity. When students achieved their goals (with sign-off from their parents), they were given theoretical "money" to bank. The more goals achieved, the more money banked, and the more healthy reward activities (such as rock climbing) could be "bid" for in an end-of-term auction. This exercise integrated a range of academic and life skills such as mathematics, planning ahead, and learning the consequences of actions.

Year 7 students surveyed other students about the canteen. They developed a questionnaire, carried out the survey, analysed and collated the responses, and presented the results. This exercise was integrated into all curriculum areas and, although some students were resistant, it helped improve students’ acceptance and ownership of the changes that followed.

Not all foods recommended by the students were suitable, but there were enough good ideas to start improving the food on offer. Out went the fish and chips, then pastry products and other fried foods. In came calzones, bread-case pies, hot noodles, garlic bread, and pizza. Chippies, potato sticks, smart cookies, and other less healthy snack foods are still available.

Students are slowly accepting the changes and are mostly concerned with getting value for money and big servings – the most frequent complaint has been about the loss of "big" cookies, even with smaller ones available. A bonus is that the canteen has a captive audience, with students not permitted to leave the school grounds at lunchtimes.

The students are all exposed to health promotion through a combination of food technology and interchange in the curriculum. The interchange focuses and stimulates students' involvement and interest. The teachers believe that incorporating health information into lessons is much more effective than just telling students what to do and/or banning things.

Co-curricular health promotion opportunities

A successful project has been an edible garden, grown by year 7 health class students over the summer months. While the students loved eating the results – which included vegetables, herbs, and strawberries – the activity reinforced 5ADay and other healthy eating messages. One challenge was looking after the garden over the summer break, which coincided with the main time for growing and harvesting.

The school and community environment

The Health Coordinator and Canteen Manager now work more closely, and the canteen menu is being improved, although this has presented challenges. An absence of food preparation areas means that all food, except the garlic bread, is prepared elsewhere.

Teachers are seeing changes around the school, with students discussing healthy lunch options with them and being proud of bringing and eating healthy food. They are also finding students more knowledgeable about what is "healthier". As a result of the edible garden and class smoothie-making sessions, students are trying new fruit and vegetables. Teachers are using non-food items as rewards – for example, stationery rather than sweets. Some teachers believe the students are calmer, and have more energy and better concentration as a result of more frequent snacking and better fitness.

School and community partnerships

Parents had input into the canteen changes and have generally been supportive. Ideas for "healthier" lunches and snacks are regularly included in the school newsletter, along with other health-related articles. At meet the teacher evenings, parents are encouraged to make healthy lifestyle choices.

Breens developed a food policy as part of its work towards the National Heart Foundation’s Silver award. The policy was developed by teaching staff and approved by the Board of Trustees, and the award has now been achieved. The school has also established strong links with other local schools through cluster meetings.

The health teacher has spent her teacher-release time visiting other school canteens to gather ideas to make Breens healthier, and there are plans to improve the canteen’s facilities so that onsite food preparation is possible. The school wants to find ways to prevent students making multiple unhealthy choices from the canteen, and to encourage greater involvement by parents and the wider community to help ensure its messages are consistent and sustainable. This extends to promoting the use of consistent food and health messages in contributing schools, so that students receive the same signals throughout their schooling.


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