Program Evaluation Demonstrates Value and Impact of Student Nutrition Programs in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph

Posted on Monday, July 18th, 2016

The Research Shop completed a program evaluation in August 2016 for The Children’s Foundation of Guelph and Wellington’s Food and Friends, who initiate, facilitate and support quality nutrition programs in local schools. Student Nutrition Programs (SNPs), like those supported by Food and Friends, ensure that all children in Ontario have access to safe and nutritious food throughout the school day.

Food and Friends felt that the breakfast, lunch and snack programs that they offer help children reach their potential and make a difference by providing a positive start to the day, improving their learning abilities, decreasing disruptive behaviours in the classroom, encouraging positive social skills, and teaching children healthy eating habits. However, they were in need of baseline data that would help them substantiate these claims, acquire further funding, and make improvements to SNPs in the future.

Data was gathered from four schools in the Upper Grand District School Board using both qualitative and quantitative research measures. 258 students in grades 6,7, and 8 completed surveys about their experiences and opinions regarding the SNP offered at their school. Principals and program coordinators at the same schools also participated in semi-structured interviews, where they shared the details of the SNP at their school.

Research Shop interns and project managers were involved in this mixed-methods, community-engaged project from inception to completion. In collaboration with Food and Friends staff, they created a logic model, completed research ethics applications, designed and implemented surveys and interviews, and performed the program evaluation. Research Shop students travelled to the participating schools in April and May of 2016, where they were immersed in classrooms and witnessed a variety of the SNPs available in WDG. When asked about her experience, Research Shop intern Amanda Jenkins expressed that working on the SNP project was a great opportunity to learn more about a program that has a meaningful impact on students in the community. Along with refining her interview skills, she felt that she had gained valuable experience working with a community partner and being part of a supportive research team. Overall, she was excited that this project was significant in identifying challenges that can be reduced to further improve a highly valued program.

Early results clearly demonstrate the value of SNPs in WDG. In their interviews, school principals and program coordinators emphasized the value of breakfast, lunch, and snack programs at their schools. Among other positive aspects, they highlighted that they felt that these programs met a need for hungry students, generally improved academic performance, increased student socialization, and provided leadership roles for students. The survey data also confirmed that the programs are generally offered in a supportive, non-judgmental environment. 98% of students surveyed were aware of the program at their school, 90% agreed that the program is something that anyone can use, and 70% had used the program.

The final report with the full evaluation findings is now available on the University of Guelph's Atrium.

July 18, 2016

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