La Jolla Elementary School creates Wellness Guide for students and families

The La Jolla Elementary School Family Wellness Guide
The La Jolla Elementary School Family Wellness Guide has chapters on physical and mental health, nutrition and cooking, physical fitness, and art, music and nature.

In addition to the extensive list of adaptations schools have had to make amid the COVID-19 pandemic, La Jolla Elementary School has had to modify an event that organizers see as more important than ever: its Wellness Night.

Instead of the in-person annual event, the school created a Family Wellness Guide with chapters on physical and mental health, nutrition and cooking, physical fitness, and art, music and nature. It also contains a list of student activities and links to videos and more information.

Students are encouraged to complete at least one of the listed activities and submit a photo by Nov. 15 to be entered in a raffle for prizes from local vendors.

Co-chairwoman Debbie Hanoch said the Parent Teacher Organization has long committed to holding monthly events such as a family picnic and science night and would hold the Wellness Night in October.

“It’s designed to foster health and wellness at La Jolla Elementary School,” she said. “In the past, it has been on a Friday night and usually starts with a wellness fair where we invite vendors in the community to provide something that promotes health and wellness. Some made it an educational experience, offered coupons and information, gave out samples, etc. It provided them the chance to promote their business and gave parents the chance to learn more about what was locally available in these fields.”

Students would participate in six activity stations while parents listened to speakers.

This year, inspired by The New York Times’ “At Home” section that began publication during the pandemic, the parent volunteers decided to produce a guide that encourages activity and provides information from local experts.

“Even though we can’t meet in person, we wanted to reach our school community ... in a friendly and approachable way,” said co-chairwoman Dorka Hegedus-lum. “We didn’t want to do another Zoom call because we are inundated with them now. We wanted this to be something people could do at their own pace and reach a wide variety of people. We wanted the activities to be basic and fun, not like an exercise they were going to be graded on. We were going for low stress.”

“Because the health and well-being of our community is of the utmost importance, especially during this time, it was essential to find a way to transition it from an in-person event to an online event,” said La Jolla Elementary Principal Stephanie Hasselbrink. “We wanted to respect families’ desires for decreased screen time and we wanted to accommodate families’ individual schedules.”

The hope was to provide “fresh and new information” and expose the community to local enterprises in the health and wellness field, Hegedus-lum said.

“We wanted to give them new tools to try during the pandemic. We thought it was even more needed for families,” Hanoch said. “The ideas in the guide are ones you could use even outside the pandemic, but even more now. Some families had questions about dealing with eye strain from online education, so we have an article in the guide about that topic. ... There was also an article about fostering independent behavior in children. I thought that was important as well.”

Licensed clinical social worker Debbie Zeichner writes in the guide’s physical and mental health chapter that “now, more than ever, is a great time to really look for and acknowledge the times your child is showing ‘positive’ behaviors such as kindness, compassion, empathy and respect. Phrases such as ‘Thank you for …’ and ‘I really appreciate the way you …’ help a child feel seen, heard and acknowledged. When children feel better, they tend to do better.”

The Wellness Guide also includes yoga stretches, tips for improving soccer skills, recipes, art exercises and more.

“There’s a lot in there,” Hanoch said with a laugh.

Hasselbrink said Hanoch and Hegedus-lum “did an incredible job spearheading this work. ... They reached out to our PTO president, Kat Peppers, and me to engage in a brainstorming process. They already had so many wonderful ideas for transitioning the event online.”

“We will consider it a success if one mom or one student gets something out of this,” Hegedus-lum said. “If they get a break and read something that resonates with them, we’ll be happy. We aren’t going to track it for results. We just want it to speak to people. We just hope to give readers something hopeful.”

To view the Family Wellness Guide, go to