Kingston teacher chosen as Pan Am Games torchbearer
By Hollie Pratt-Campbell
Pan Am Games - The link between proper nutrition and performance has been proven time and again, whether your goal is standing on the podium at the Pan Am Games or getting an A on your next math test.
Teacher Don Wartman understands this connection because he sees it in his students every day; that’s what inspired him to head up the Food Share program at Calvin Park Public School, an initiative that ensures all students has access to the nutrition they need to succeed throughout the school day by providing them with hot breakfasts, lunches and snacks.
“The kids are really appreciative and actually the whole tone of the school has changed over the past couple of years that we’ve been doing this,” Wartman says. “They come in and they know that’s one concern that they don’t have to worry about.”
In recognition of these efforts and the positive impact he has on the lives of youth, Wartman will have the honour of being a Pan Am Games torchbearer for Kingston when the relay comes through on July 2. He was nominated by Tim Brown of Kingston’s Food Sharing Project, and chosen by representatives of the President’s Choice Children’s Charity, both of which help sponsor the Food Share program at Calvin Park.
“The sport term we like to use is ‘balances the playing field’,” says Brian Findlay, a representative from the PC Children’s Charity who presented Wartman with a commemorative framed image of a torch on May 27. “If every kid has the right kind of nourishment, they have the chance to do well in school.”
Wartman explains that the focus is always on serving students fresh, healthy food, much of which they can even help cook themselves.
“We make pasta sauces, we make scrambled eggs and we have green peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cheese. We actually have introduced a lot of kids to tofu. We try not to do a lot of meat cooking just because of the health concerns around that and we have to make sure we get that protein in.”
Typically 30 - 40 students come in for breakfast and 40 – 50 for the hot lunch, which is held two or three times a week. Snacks are also available throughout the day. Wartman emphasizes that students don’t need to ‘qualify’ in any way to participate in the program, so the food is available to anyone who wants it.
“As soon as they know it’s a hot lunch day we get a lot of kids and we don’t say ‘well so-and-so can and so-and-so can’t’. It’s whoever needs a lunch that day to help them get through the afternoon.”
Findlay says this is a big part of the reason why Wartman was chosen as torchbearer.
“By doing it that way you remove the stigma of a breakfast program or a nutrition program. The last thing you want to do is have kids feel like the spotlight’s on them because they need to use it.”
Wartman says that the time he and the students spend together cooking, eating and cleaning up after meals is also an important aspect of the program.
“There’s no technology, everyone is just sitting around chatting. For some kids it’s just a great opportunity to [take their minds off their outside worries]. Everyone’s going to be acting the same way, we’re all going to sit down together at a table and we’re just going to chat about how the weekend was or how the night was.”
Wartman hopes his experience as torchbearer inspires his students to give back to the community and get involved with different activities whenever they can.
“Whatever I’m allowed to keep I’m going to be displaying in the classroom just to try to motivate students to get involved, whether that’s carrying a torch or getting involved playing sports at school.”
He adds that “for me it’s just an opportunity to feel proud that I’ve given back and I’m hoping I can get the students to come and say ‘there’s Mr. Wartman, he’s helped us now we’re going to come out and cheer him on’.”
Hollie Pratt-Campbell is the editor of the Kingston Heritage and Frontenac Gazette newspapers.