Lunch programme making a difference at Grange Hill
The Grange Hill High School, in Westmoreland, is reporting a significant reduction in absenteeism due largely to the success of the institution's lunch programme, which provides complimentary hot meals to the most marginalised of its student population.
The lunch programme was started in 2014 and delivers meals on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, to students, who were registering a high rate of absenteeism from school, some averaging up to four days per week. Financing for the project was initially through grant funding provided by remittance conglomerate, Western Union in partnership with United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Jamaica.
"We received $500,000 from UNICEF," Project Coordinator, Venecia Whyte-Foster, told Western Focus. "They partnered with Western Union to look at some of the issues that we faced as a school, such as a high rate of absenteeism, and from a proposal that we had submitted, they granted us our $500,000.00."
" We identified 60 students that would be contributing the most to our high absenteeism rate and we started providing free lunches for them. Since starting the programme, we have seen a more than 90 per cent reduction in absenteeism by those students," added Whyte-Foster.
The lunch programme, which began in September 2014 and is still being sustained. Additional plans are under consideration for an expansion from the current three days per week, to five days.
According to Whyte-Foster, half of the initial sum of $500,000 donation went towards starting the lunch project, while the remainder was used to establish a chicken farm. The profits from the farms are pumped into the lunch programme.
"We would really like to give them five days per week instead of the three days, because these students they really need it. Even though they are given lunch, they still find it challenging to afford the cost of transportation to come to school; so we are trying to implement another sustainable aspect to the programme by growing vegetables to sell at the market," the principal said.
The farm, which is manned by students, with assistance from community members, is under the supervision of Calvin Clarke, head of the Agricultural Science Department.
"We are currently rear broiler chickens.. . the coops have a carrying capacity of 1500 along with an area for brooding that can carry an additional 500 chickens. Currently we sell the mature chickens back to the school canteen to sustain our school feeding programme, and whatever profits we realize we actually pump that back into expanding the programme," Clarke explained.
Whyte-Foster said that by getting the students involved in the rearing and slaughtering of the chickens, the school is trying to prepare them, not just to enter the working world in search of jobs but to become entrepreneurs. She said plans are also in place to start a vegetable garden, proceeds of which would go further towards assisting needy students.