Start Early. Start well.

August 22, 2022

Westside Offers Fun, Support for Families at Back-to-School Event

Girl getting her face paintedCamille Muse gets her face painted at Westside Community Schools' back-to-school celebration. In addition to face-painting and other fun activities, Westside offered families wraparound services, including haircuts and free health screenings and physicals.
By Erin Duffy 

Pamela Young breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the booth offering free haircuts at Westside Community Schools’ back-to-school celebration.  

She’s been busy getting three kids ready for elementary and middle school, so plans to get 10-year-old Asher a back-to-school trim had gotten lost in the shuffle.  

Hairstylist AmberRose Shaske, a Westgate Elementary parent, came to the rescue, giving Asher a few snips so he can start the school year looking good.  

“The chicks will dig it, dude,” Young told him.  

Woman giving boy a haircutAmberRose Shaske gives Asher Young a haircut at Westside's
back-to-school event.
Omaha Public Schools and Westside held districtwide back-to-school events on Aug. 13 and 14, respectively, to connect with students and families and get them ready and excited for the start of the new school year. Westside students returned on Aug. 16, and most OPS students on Aug. 17, with staggered starts throughout the week for OPS.  

“It’s just to bring everybody together, whether you’re a senior about to graduate, or a Kindergartner starting off,” said Brandi Paul, Westside’s director of communications and engagement.  

The Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska provides support and services to both districts as part of the Superintendents’ Early Childhood Plan. The plan is an ambitious effort by the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties to close opportunity gaps among children in the Omaha metro area.  

In addition to the bubbles, face-painting, martial arts demonstrations, and food trucks hawking corndogs and shaved ice, Westside also offered families wraparound services, including the haircuts and free health screenings and physicals by OneWorld Community Health Centers.   

Paul said Superintendent Mike Lucas and school staff want back-to-school to be a time of excitement for students and families, not stress. Some families might have forgotten to schedule a physical or a haircut. Others may be struggling to stretch their back-to-school budget.  

In an annual back-to-school survey conducted by accounting firm Deloitte LLP, 57% of families reported they were concerned about inflation affecting the cost of school shopping. On average, parents were expected to spend $661 per child on new clothes, backpacks, and other supplies.  

“Especially with the pandemic, we’re already starting to hear from parents about school lunches costing more,” Paul said. “Whether families are embarrassed to ask for help, or people don’t realize it’s available, maybe this is a way we can reach them. If families are having problems paying the air conditioning bill, we can help you with that. Cox offers free and reduced Internet for families that qualify. We’re all about supporting the whole child.” 

At booths stationed across the football stadium at Westside High School, families and school staff got valuable face time with each other.  

“We’ve seen a lot of kids in our preschool program, a lot of kids we serve,” said school psychologist Abbey Sualy, who’s also a member of the Buffett Institute’s Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Leadership Cadre

Delilah Figueroa, a second grader at Westbrook Elementary, and sister Leilani, a preschooler, are ready to get back to their friends and school routines, said their mother, Lily Hernandez.  

They scoped out the booths for different activities like gymnastics and cheerleading.  

“I’m just trying to find them a few more activities to keep them even more busy,” Hernandez laughed.  

Erin Duffy is the managing editor at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska and writes about early childhood issues that affect children, families, educators, and communities. Previously, she spent more than a decade covering education stories and more for daily newspapers. 

Have a comment, a question, or a story idea? Reach Erin at 
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