Kids are chatting excitedly and clapping games echo around the covered courtyard. Breakfast is only minutes away. Sushmitha Sundaravadivel and her Penrith High School friends are busy getting cereal, milk, toast and other healthy goodies ready for close to 50 primary school kids.
Sushmitha is in her final year at high school in western Sydney. She leads a team of volunteers at the breakfast club, which means doing the rosters and busily making sure everything runs smoothly for the young kids. "I've been involved for about four years now. I think it's a really good program, encouraging children to eat healthily in the morning," she says.
"Breakfast is ready," yells Danielle Bradley, the Penrith Primary School teacher. The younger kids eagerly surge forwards and before long they are munching through their first meal of the day.
Energy for learning
"It's delicious, really yummy," says eight-year-old Nina as she tucks in to her Weet-Bix. She has been eating breakfast with her friends at school most days since the start of the year. Nina loves the breakfast club. "It's really good fun and I get to chatter. It helps me get fit and get through the day til lunchtime," she says with a coy smile.
"I'm eating the berry Weet-Bix bites. I can basically taste it until dinner," 11-year-old Todd chimes in. Todd is really glad to have a big bowl of cereal this morning as shortly his whole grade five class is off to walk around the oval seven times, he says.
Making sure the kids have enough energy for the day is vital, says Danielle, who helps run the Good Start Breakfast Club. She also teaches English as a second language at Penrith Primary School. "We noticed that a lot of children were coming to school, who haven't eaten and that was shown in a classroom, that they were tired or sleepy."
The breakfast also helps seven-year-old Claire do well in her classes. "It helps me write neater and it tastes really yummy," she says.
Joy is etched in Danielle's face as she describes how inspiring it is to see the difference in the kids after they eat well.
"In their face it shows, while they're eating breakfast, while they're talking with high school volunteers, they're enjoying coming to school and that transfers into the classroom. They're happy, content and ready to get going.
"Red Cross has been a super support for our school, for our children to get going for the day," Danielle adds.
Volunteers and mentors
Todd and Claire chat with Sushmitha as they wash their plates. Sushmitha explains she and her friends love volunteering with the young kids.
"It's quite fun, they get excited about high school," Sushmitha says. She enjoys mentoring, allaying fears the younger children may have about high school like bullying.
Steve Duclos, who is the Head Social Science Teacher at Penrith High, is standing by the side, satisfied as he sees everything run like clockwork.
"I just enjoy seeing the change in attitude of the students where they'll come and do something for somebody else, not just for their own gain but for the benefit they gain in doing something with other people and I think that's clearly evident here," says Steve, who coordinates his school's involvement.
"You see that some kids are always here queuing up and I don't think they are just queuing up for the novelty of it. I think this is a way they rely on getting a good start and good food," Steve says.
The high school and primary school are next door to each other in one of the most multicultural areas of Sydney. Steve points out that literally across the road, there are two large fast food outlets which provide competition for healthy meals.
Steve says he has seen big changes in many high school students, who are eating healthier food thanks to the success of the breakfast club. More than 200 high school students from years nine to 12 are helping out with breakfasts for the younger kids, throughout the year.
"They'll talk to the students about their choice of food. 'Do you understand what a healthy breakfast is about?' I think the training that they do beforehand with Red Cross is giving them a clear understanding, they are very successful in promoting that ideal as well," Steve says.
Sushmitha says the high school kids are leading by example. "Providing the breakfast shows that there are healthy alternatives for what we eat rather than other fast food.
"All the students involved in the breakfast club understand how important breakfast is as a meal to start the day. It gives you a good start to the day so it has to be something healthy," adds Sushmitha.
Photos: Australian Red Cross/Arunas Klupsas