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East County Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021 9 months ago

Lakewood Ranch families make the first day of school memorable

Whether it's breakfast-in-bed or a special getaway, traditions mark the opening day of school.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

The first day of school can be an exciting time for families in the Lakewood Ranch area.

Whether it’s the first day of pre-K or the final first day of a student’s K-12 career, first days of school are special. Some families make the day even more memorable with their own first day of school traditions.


Breakfast of champions

Nine years ago, Lakewood Ranch’s Cristina Holland walked into daughter Mairead’s bedroom and set down a tray holding a special breakfast.

“Hey baby, wake up. Mommy made breakfast to celebrate the first day of school,” Cristina Holland told her daughter. 

Reed Holland enjoys a special breakfast in bed his mother Cristina Holland made for him to celebrate the first day of school. Courtesy photo.

As Mairead, who was going into preschool, ate her breakfast in bed, the mother and daughter talked about what to expect and what excited them about the school year.

Thus began a tradition in the Holland home where Cristina Holland would bring her daughter a special breakfast of a combination of breakfast favorites including pancakes, waffles, eggs, bacon, fruit and cinnamon rolls.

“It makes them feel special because it’s not something we do all the time,” Holland said.

When Holland’s son, Reed, started pre-K, he had breakfast in bed as well.

Now as Mairead enters eighth grade at Dr. Mona Jain Middle School, and Reed starts the second grade at B.D. Gullett Elementary School, Holland said her children have come to expect the breakfast tradition every year.

“Over the last few years, my son will come into the kitchen and ask, ‘Is it ready yet?’” Holland said. “I’ll tell him, ‘No, not yet.’ Even though they’re awake, they just lie in bed and kind of wait for me to bring in the breakfast tray with their food.”


First day of freedom

For parents, the first day of school signifies not only the children’s start of a new school year but also the first day without kids after a summer of driving them to camp, play dates and other activities.

Lakewood Ranch’s Crystal Rothhaar, whose daughter, Allison, is entering sixth grade at R. Dan Nolan Middle School and whose son, Ryan, who is going into fourth grade at Robert Willis Elementary School, marks the occasion with a group of moms and a paddleboarding adventure through the Lido Key mangrove tunnels followed by cocktails at Cha Cha Coconuts in Sarasota.

Lakewood Ranch's Crystal Rothhaar goes paddleboarding with a group of moms every year to celebrate the first day of school after dropping their kids off at school. Courtesy photo.

“All summer we shuttle our kids around to different types of camps, and we work, so when the kids go back to school, we have time to ourselves again and have a little bit of freedom,” Rothhaar said.

The paddleboarding tradition started four years ago after Rothhaar picked her children up from a paddleboarding camp and asked whether the company, Surfit, did group tours.

“We see manatees, dolphins and sometimes jellyfish,” Rothhaar said. “It’s tranquil and peaceful. It’s nice being out on the water, especially because the week leading up to the first day of school can be chaotic. I feel like we’re running around crazy trying to get the kids ready. It’s almost like: ‘We made it. We survived summer with the kids at home.’”

Rothhaar recalled that for the first year she and her friends went paddleboarding, their Uber dropped them off at the wrong location. They had to walk a mile to get to the right place.

Another year, Rothhaar was standing on her paddleboard trying to take a photo of the group when she lost her balance and ended up in the shallow water. 

The trip is a time for Rothhaar to catch up with friends. When she returns to Willis Elementary to pick her children, she acts as if nothing happened.

“We all try to hide our excitement that we’re going to do something fun,” Rothhaar said. “We go back to school with some sunburn and pretend all is normal, and we missed our kids and couldn’t be without them.”


Picture-perfect first day 

Nicolas Juliano and his sister, Isabella Juliano, know it's time to take photos on the first day of school when the chalkboards come out. Courtesy photo.

Every time River Club’s Patricia Juliano takes out her chalkboards on the first day of school, her children, Nicolas and Isabella, know it’s time to commemorate their first day.

Juliano has been writing the grade her children were starting and has taken a photo of them each year since they were in pre-K.

“It’s unbelievable; it really does go by fast,” Juliano said. “It’s amazing to see them grow into young, beautiful people.” 

This year will mark a big year for the Julianos as Isabella is the big kid on Braden River Middle School’s campus starting eighth grade, and Nicolas starts his freshman year at Lakewood Ranch High School.

Austin Hamer smiles for his traditional first-day-of-school photo on his first day of sixth grade last year. Courtesy photo.

“To my kids, the pictures are not so important, but they’re so important to me because I cherish the memories seeing them go from my little pre-Ker to eighth grade and high school,” Juliano said. “It’s special to see how they’ve grown each year.”

River Place’s Nicole Hamer also enjoys looking back over the photos she’s taken of her sons, Aiden, Austin, Trey and Trevor, to see how they’ve grown since they were kindergartners. Trey and Trevor are going into third grade at Braden River Elementary School, Austin will be a seventh grader at Braden River Middle School, and Aiden will be a freshman at Braden River High School.

“We like to see the change each year brings,” Hamer said. “They just grow so fast. It’s good to see them growing into good boys”

Her husband, Jeff, uses crayons to draw a special sign for each of the kids that shows what grade they’re going into each year.


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