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Runanga School

The school ethos and organisation

The principal believes that actions like a ban on confectionery and fizzy drinks, the introduction of toast for morning tea, and breaking the

Carrot sticks.

day into three sessions have all assisted the children’s concentration and ability to stay on task. Another key factor is the teachers modelling healthy eating behaviour and not sending mixed messages.

Curriculum programmes

The healthy eating ethos is seen across all areas of the school, fully integrated into the curriculum and other activities. At the school’s annual Coal Creek Challenge Run, fruit and water is offered to the younger children at the halfway point and to the older competitors at the end. The senior students have their technology classes at the local high school, where they have cooking lessons.

Co-curricular health promotion opportunities

A unique feature of Runanga is its highly successful Runanga Rascals Café. This started in 2007 at the suggestion of a parent and chef who was concerned about the lack of cooking and nutrition skills and knowledge in the community. He wanted to share his knowledge and expertise, and teach the children that healthy food tastes good. As the school’s four teachers are female, it was felt that a male chef would be a good role model for some of the boys and, as a result, 10 boys aged 9 to 13 years, who teachers felt could benefit from extra confidence or discipline, were selected to help in the café.

The café provides healthy lunches for students and the wider community one day a week. The menu is based on simple food that is low in fat, sugar, and salt. The boys surveyed the rest of the students for menu suggestions and devised the menu with the chef’s help. Initially, the choices were "plain" and familiar to the children so they would learn to trust the food in the café and that healthy food could be tasty. Then a few different foods were added, to broaden the children’s tastes. The menu includes things like vegetable soup, salad-based wraps, kebabs, corn on the cob (in season), curries, tortillas, and stuffed potatoes. There is also a fruit-based dessert and/or chopped fruit with yoghurt. The chef noted that the children say that the food is "yummy", and he was delighted when one child said the food was 'better than McDonalds'.

The chef says that when the boys put on the uniform and take on the responsibility of food preparation, it is as though they have gone into "Dr Who’s tardis" – even those who don’t always behave well at other times. The boys get real enjoyment from the work and are very proud of their achievements – justifiably, because they have won the Development Westcoast Young Entrepreneur Award. With the prize money, the school bought a washing machine and dryer so the boys could wash their chef uniforms and tea towels, which means they have learnt about separating whites and darks, and simple stain removal.

There are cross-curricular links for the chefs – for example, maths in multiplying quantities in recipes; art in designing fruit faces and decorating food; science in food hygiene; life skills in working together and taking on extra responsibilities. Taking on the role of a chef takes commitment, as the boys are required to work through their play and lunch breaks. Here, as elsewhere in the school, Runanga’s health promotion is linked to the curriculum wherever possible.

The school and community environment

The café meals cost $2 and are served in the school hall, which is set up as a café. Residents from the pensioner flats across the road from the school sometimes come to the café and on occasions the boys have delivered meals to the residents. Parents and others are also welcome to eat in the café.

School and community partnerships

The canteen.

To support the local community, the Rascals Café tries to buy locally, purchasing meat from the Runanga Butcher and greens from a local gardener. It will also use vegetables grown in the school garden, which has been established as part of the District Health Board’s Tucking In programme, a community initiative to encourage people to grow and eat more vegetables. In an excellent example of communities working together, the DHB and Mitre 10 donated garden plots to all schools and early childhood centres in the district. The DHB held an event to launch Runanga’s three plots of vegetables and herbs to the community, which involved gardening and composting advice, and cooking demonstrations using garden produce. As a result, a keen gardener offered to assist the school with its garden.

Not daunted by its lack of proper cooking equipment, Runanga obtained funding and volunteer labour from local company Solid Energy to set up a kitchen. In return, the school hall can be used by the community and Solid Energy uses it for meetings and training sessions. Some funding was also provided by Development West Coast. The café is self-supporting, with any profits used to ensure its future.

The boys have catered very successfully at outside events and have visited the chef school at the local polytechnic to see other chefs working and training. Several of the boys have expressed an interest in becoming chefs and they report cooking the things they have made at school for their family at home.

The positive relationships and involvement of the local community in the school has made it possible to do things that might be difficult somewhere else. One excellent example of this was when, in 1999, the principal noticed that a number of children were not eating breakfast before school. A local shop agreed that the school could have any unsold bread to make toast for the children – and this shop has continued to donate bread ever since. Another business also donates bread, so there is enough to provide toast to the whole school every morning at the first break, during the Read and Feed session. Parents come in to cook the toast every day, and when there wasn’t enough parent help to prepare the toast, students wrote a note for the school newsletter asking for volunteers.

Runanga was the first school on the West Coast to become a Health Promoting School and it is also part of the Fruit in Schools scheme. Teachers are very positive about the scheme, as the fruit has proven popular with the 95 students. Many pupils, teachers, and support staff have tried fruits they had not previously eaten, such as persimmon, mango, and fresh pineapple. Students act as fruit monitors, and count and distribute the fruit each day. To reduce waste and make the fruit less daunting, a teacher cuts up the fruit for the youngest children – this also means they can choose from a selection of fruit each day. The teachers also benefit from the cluster meetings with health professionals and other schools participating in the scheme, at which they can share ideas and discuss any issues that come up. There are anecdotal reports that even though fruit is provided at the school, children are now bringing more fruit from home.

Runanga prides itself on its open door policy and communication with parents about healthy eating at school. This is done in a number of ways, including through newsletters and at events such as enrolment and parent evenings, and by having the nutrition policy displayed on the noticeboard in the school foyer. There has been no opposition or complaints from parents, even about the ban on sweets and soft drinks.