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Serving our students

As Barbados observes 50 years of free universal education, Barbados TODAY will be taking a look at some aspects of the education system. Today we highlight the School Meals Centres.

by Neville Clarke

Nearly 50 years after the introduction of school meals at the island’s primary schools, the service now provides 30,000 meals a day to 95 primary schools and some secondary schools.

These young visitors are shown some of the kitchen equipment used by an earlier generation of Barbadians.

The programme provides work for 600 workers as cooks and servers at four school meals centres around the island.

A source at two of the centres told Barbados TODAY that the menu served to the children varies from day to day and from centre to centre.

For example, on Monday the menu served from the Lancaster Centre will include: Cod Fish Kedgeree; lettuce and cucumbers and melon slice. On Tuesday the children would be treated to grilled chicken loaf, with dressing (mustard and Ketchup) salt rolls, lettuce and bananas. On Wednesday, the children will be served fried bangamary, salt rolls, lettuce , tomato and ice cream. On Thursday, savoury minced beef, cream potato, sliced carrots and an apple and on Fridays students are served chicken pelau, cabbage and apple salad and coconut bread and cherry slices.

The School Meals Centre at the Harbour provides macaroni and cheese, mixed vegetables and apples on Monday; on Tuesday chicken weiners with dressing, hotdog rolls and oranges; on Wednesday the cooks prepare hob stew and dumplings, creamed sweet potato and bananas. On Thursday, they prepare codfish kedgeree, lettuce and cucumber and melon slice. On Friday, the children are treated to creamed sweet potato, chicken in stew and coconut slices.

However, as far back as the mid-1930s, rudimentary attempts were made to ensure that children attending elementary schools enjoyed a school feeding programme.

It may be recalled that a member of the Moyne Commission investigating the causes of the disturbances of 1937 argued that any study of the Caribbean at that time was “a study in poverty.”

This was a period when most houses in the country had dirt floors and few households enjoyed the luxury of indoor plumbing.

During this period, the colonial powers of the day gave each child three-eighth pint of milk and two biscuits as a mid-morning snack. This practice has continued over the years in spite of the introduction of school meals at mid-day.

However, the scheme was modified after the school lunch programme was initiated and all children were allowed the three-eighth pint of milk, but only those children who did not take school meals were served with biscuits.

Today, milk continues to be an integral part of the school feeding programme , but biscuits are served only at the nursery school.

The records show that in 1962, consideration was given to the establishment of a service to provide a hot meal for children in primary schools.

March 1963 saw the beginning of the School Meals Programme to serve a hot meal to children in Primary Schools.

The Westbury Centre, St. Michael; St. Clement’s Centre, St. Lucy and St. Christopher Centre, Christ Church, were opened as a pilot scheme.

Records show that in 1965, Gun Hill Centre was opened in St. George and in 1969, Summervale Centre was opened in St. Philip and Reed Street Centre in St. Michael.

Thirteen thousand children drawn from 58 schools were receiving hot lunches from six school meals centres.

In 1970, the School Meals Office was established in the Ministry of Education with a staff of thirty-two and in 1971 this office was changed to a separate department of the Ministry of Education and re-located to “Palm Villa” Country Road, St. Michael, the present site.

In 1974, the Country Road Centre was opened and by that time participation in the school feeding programme was 24,000 . The total staff of the department was 602. By 1976, the total number of schools served was 119 with a participation of 34 0000 meals daily.

The Gun Hill Centre was closed in August 1979, whilst the Reed Street Centre was closed in March 1983. At present there are centres at Lancaster, St. James; St. Christopher, Christ Church; Country Road, St. Michael and the Harbour Road, St. Michael.

In 1984, the warehouse at the Harbour Road was converted to a centre and the operations of the Westbury Centre were transferred to this new location.

In the 1980s and early 1990s saw a period of closure of schools and amalgamation of existing schools, so that by July 1995, the schools participating in the school feeding programme numbered 93 and the average number of meals served daily was 24,000.

The schools participating in the programme include government primary schools as well as the lone Senior School and private institutions such as the Learning Centre, the Challenor School and the St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic School.

Lunches are also served to selected students at some secondary schools.

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