Prepping for back to school

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The key to fostering academic, physical and social success at school is preparation.

By Stephen Dorman/Special to The Malibu Times

Although area schools are not scheduled to open for several weeks, many local parents, students and teachers have already begun planning for the calendar year. Whether it’s shopping for the coolest new threads, getting a meal plan in order, or even picking out that perfect lunchbox, preparation is often the key to academic, physical and social success.

Jillian Hetch, a nine year old who will be entering fourth grade at Point Dume Elementary School when it opens on Sept. 7, had to complete a reading list of two to three books over the summer, one of which she can choose to report upon during the first week of class. It’s all part of the school’s voluntary summer reading program that individually recognizes students for participation.

“It’s our job as parents to make sure our daughter has done her readings,” said Jillian’s mother, Wendy Hetch. “The next step is to supply her with the necessary shoes and clothes for the year, particularly ones that are comfortable for playing on the playground.”

Of course, getting the reading finalized and shopping done is one thing, but finding the right accessories to compliment the new clothing and literary wit can be a surprisingly tough task. Peer pressure often forces children-particularly those who are younger and more easily influenced-to backtrack on ideas that might have originally seemed appealing. When that happens, parents have to come up with creative alternatives.

“We buy our daughter a new lunchbox every year,” said Malibu resident Brooke Bohm, whose 6-year-old daughter Hunter is entering first grade at Webster Elementary School. “But last year she came home after the first day of class and said she didn’t want to take her new pink Scooby-Doo box to school anymore because another girl said it was ugly. So, after discussing it with her, we decided this year she’d wait to see what other kids have before going out and buying her own.”

One thing she didn’t have to worry about was shopping for school supplies like pencils and notebooks because, for a $25 fee, Webster has offered to take care of the basic necessities for students.

And while it certainly is important for parents to provide gear that is aesthetically pleasing for their child’s developing mind, it’s what goes inside the lunchbox that carries the most significance to the youngster’s well-being.

Chris Lauderdale, associate director of the culinary program at the Art Institute of California-Orange County, advises parents to prepare meals that incorporate different aspects of the food pyramid; specifically lean meats, fruits, vegetables and grains such as bread, bagels and crackers. He also stresses the importance of getting children involved in the shopping process.

“Make sure [the lunch] is not overwhelming in quantity, nor does it have to be overwhelming in variety, either,” Lauderdale said. “Kids can learn to like a lot of different things without being forced into it. And hopefully the process will lead to improved eating habits at a younger age.”

However, not all parents have the time to create a healthy lunch day in and day out during the school year, which highlights the importance of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s adopted nutrition policy that took effect in November of 2003.

Orlando Griego, the district’s director of food and nutrition services, said one aspect of the current policy has eliminated carbonated beverages from being sold to junior high students attending Malibu High School. The vending machines will also limit snacks containing high amounts of sugars and fats.

“It’s all about teaching kids to select healthy options when offered,” Griego said.

The district has also received national praise for its nutritional educational programs, including an ongoing farmers’ market at both the elementary and junior/senior high school levels-particularly in the Malibu schools-that has been in existence since 1997.

“The Santa Monica-Malibu School District is really setting the bar for the rest of the country with high quality,” Lauderdale said. “I’d have no qualms about having my daughter eat [there]. They are really on the cutting edge.”