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Valley Parenting : Back-to-School Quake Kits : Emergency packages for students are an idea whose time has come--with the hope they'll never be used.


WOODLAND HILLS — The new school year is almost here and it's time to go shopping for all the essentials: new shoes, new clothes and new earthquake supplies.

Parents at Woodland Hills Parents Co-Op Nursery School and many other schools will soon be packing earthquake kits with small cans of food, granola bars, lollipops, Band-Aids and--just as important--a comforting note from Mom and Dad. Throughout the Valley, the kits are an idea whose time has come--and something nobody wants to have to use.

"We have the kits in case the children are stuck at school [after an earthquake]," said Lisa Marlow, director and teacher at the Woodland Hills school. The emergency supplies are packed in individual plastic bags and stored in a plastic trash can at the school.

Such individual kits are often used by smaller schools, while larger ones store caches of bulk food, water and emergency supplies in secure outdoor containers.

But whatever the arrangement, parents add their personal touches to the supplies, realizing that someday a disaster might keep their families apart.

"The notes from parents are very important," said Marlow, whose school is 4 1/2 miles from the epicenter of the Jan. 17, 1994, Northridge quake. "[They make] the children feel secure. The parents tell them that Mommy and Daddy will be there soon, to follow Miss Lisa's instructions and it's OK to be scared."

Earthquake kits began appearing in schools after the 1971 Sylmar quake, said Carol Shinee, principal of the Maxwell H. Gluck Children's Center in Pacoima and the Fair Avenue Children's Center in North Hollywood. The Los Angeles Unified School District children's centers provide extended day care for about 150 2- to 10-year-olds.

In the past, individual kits were used at the Gluck and Fair Avenue centers, but parent participation was uneven. This year parents raised funds for bulk supplies and donated stuffed animals to comfort the children in an emergency, Shinee said.

Elsewhere, the Las Virgenes Unified School District keeps emergency supplies in large containers, but teachers keep parents' notes in a duffel bag in each classroom.

"We tell [parents] to write comforting words," said Jean Sbardellati, a kindergarten teacher at Bay Laurel Elementary School in Calabasas. "We want to tell them they're going to be OK, that Mommy and Daddy love them and that they'll be here as soon as they can," she said. "With very young children it is important that they know in advance what is going to happen, and that makes it easier for them to cope with difficult situations. It also makes the parents feel more at ease when they know that their child has that letter."

Back at the Woodland Hills Parents Co-Op Nursery School, the kits--which must be replaced every year--become kind of a treat for the youngsters on the last day of class.

When school ended last spring, Marlow handed out kits and watched children excitedly open their bags and dump out granola bars, light-producing chemical sticks and an assortment of canned meat snacks and boxed drinks. "It's like a treasure hunt," she said.

Soon, parents began arriving to pick up their youngsters. Margo Yang of Reseda had her 2-year-old daughter, Emily, bouncing along at her side as she met her bright-eyed 4-year-old son, Timothy.

"We had to move out of our house and move in with in-laws in West L.A. after the [Northridge] earthquake," Yang said. "Timothy adjusted very well. He would turn over his furniture and scatter his toys around and say, 'Look, Mom. We had an earthquake.' His doctor said it was good that he was acting out like that, that he wasn't holding in his fears."

She took his kit and sorted through the granola bars, lip balm and cans of deviled ham. Then she pulled out the note she had written him.

It said, "Emily loves you. Be a good boy. We love you. Be calm."

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