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Students with special needs win homecoming king, queen

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For the first time ever, two students with special needs are the reigning homecoming king and queen of Northgate High School in Newnan, Georgia.

Jessica Marintdale and Anastas "Anie" Nenov were crowned 2014 homecoming king and queen Friday. Both students are from the special-needs self-contained class.

“They were all campaigning for these kids. They were just amazing,” said Cathy Nenov, Anie's mom. “They are all destined for success, especially because of their hearts.”

Nenov said she was touched to hear that the class had nominated her 19-year-old son, who has fragile X syndrome.

>> ON WSBTV.COM: Watch video from the homecoming ceremony

“It’s a developmental disorder that looks a lot like autism, involves delays in cognitive speech, motor skills, but also has a real gift for comedy, enthusiasm and happiness,” Nenov said.

Anie and Jessica are close friends and have gained a world of self-confidence after being crowned.

“The students went wild, stomping their feet and chanting their names,” Nenov said. “Their spirit was amazing. I was amazed. I’d never seen my son be so outgoing like this.”

Jessica, an 18-year-old who Nenov said has unidentified developmental disabilities, was also thrilled to win.

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“She’s just overjoyed,” said Margaret Yelland, Jessica’s grandmother and guardian. “It’s just really special that they get treated like regular kids, because they really are.”

Jessica’s family found a couple of prom-style dresses for Jessica to wear for her special evening. However, they were quickly informed that their classroom was filled with prom dresses that the teachers had bought for Jessica.

She said, “Ma, did you know you could cry and laugh at the same time?” Yelland said of her granddaughter finding out she had been nominated.

Yelland said her son traveled from Michigan to walk Jessica down the football field.

“It was wonderful. The whole stadium stood up and screamed her name,” Yelland said. “I never realized that there were kids like these kids. A whole bunch of parents have done a wonderful job.”

Another student who was also nominated took her to a beauty parlor to make sure she looked the part.

“The kids on the court were just as happy for Jessica and Anie as anybody in the school,” Nenov said.

Nenov said her son’s winning homecoming court showed her there is an abundance of compassion and kindness in their community.

“I’ve always been a big believer of them being in regular population,” Nenov said of special-needs students.

She understands some students need a balance but said that Anie has always been as mainstreamed as possible. He is a drama student and works with the Northgate Vikings football team. He’s never missed a game, his mother said.

Jessica has aspirations to work in the service industry after high school.

Both teens are involved with an organization called ASPIRES Inc., which raises awareness for families and their children who experience developmental disabilities.

“There are a lot of potential homecoming kings and queens out there, and I would love for them to know that someday they’ll be recognized,” she said.

As for parents, Nenov said she would suggest they mainstream their special-needs child as much as possible.

“I know they are going through a hard time and wondering if they are doing the right thing. Wondering if they’ll get a break, if there’s help, if there’s hope,” she said. “I think this is a sign there’s hope for us all.”

Video games not so bad for kids after all, study says

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​​A new study finds playing video games could actually help a child's development — with a couple caveats. (Via Rodrigo Della Fávera / CC BY 2.0)

The study on kids from 10 to 15 was published in the journal Pediatrics by a behavioral scientist at the University of Oxford. It found "low levels of regular daily play related to better psychosocial adjustment, compared with no play."

"Low levels" was defined as less than one hour, and the link between the video game playing and the benefits, although statistically substantial, was small. (Via NBC)

What wasn't small was the contrast between how different outlets reacted to the study. 

Tech blog Gizmodo ran the headline, "Shock Survey Says Video Games are Good for Kids" and blamed media for painting young gamers as future "emotionless killers."

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Other outlets like the International Business Times were more surprised that games are "Not Always Bad For Kids." 

And it's also worth noting that sites like Gizmodo and GameSpot that tend to cover games used images of active people playing games on their feet, while more traditional publication The Independent opted for a screen capture from the controversial "Grand Theft Auto" series — which raises the question: 

"I was thinking, well, which games were you playing?" (Via NBC)

The study, which focused more on how long the kids were playing the games, didn't actually say. 

The link between video games and behavior has long drawn public interest, from senators questioning the influence of "Mortal Kombat" to President Barack Obama calling for research into violent video games as a part of his gun-control efforts. (Via C-SPANForbes)

And that might help explain why we tend to see stories like this pop up every time a new study on that link comes out. (Via CNNWiredSlateThe Huffington Post)

And also why many local news channels that ran the story are still using video of games that came out more than 10 years ago. (Via WTKRTXCNWRC-TV)

For his part, the researcher who put the study together told the BBC that he hopes it will provide a more moderated view of how video games affect kids.

A look at the best sunscreen for your money

Clark Howard is a nationally syndicated consumer advice expert

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A May 2014 study from Consumer Reports has ranked sunscreens and found that you don't have to pay big bucks to protect your skin from harsh UV rays.Here's what so funny: The highest rated sunscreen that got a Best Buy recommendation turned out to be the cheapest one per ounce they tested!

Want the best sunscreen for your money? Check out these options

Equate Ultra Protection Sunscreen SPF 50, which is a Walmart storebrand lotion, clinched the Best Buy trophy with a score of 80 from Consumer Reports. It costs only 56 cents an ounce, which represents a 9-cent increase in price since last year. Active ingredients include Avobenzone (3%), Homosalate (13%), Octisalate (5%), Octocrylene (7%), and Oxybenzone (4%). The only sunblock to score higher in the lotion category was Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50. This lotion got a score of 81 and costs $1.38. The active ingredient list mirrors that of Equate Ultra Protection Sunscreen SPF 50, with the exact same concentration of active ingredients.When it comes to sprays, longtime Consumer Reports favorite UP & UP Sport SPF 50 got a 90 -- a full 10 points higher than last year's showing for this Target housebrand. Amazingly, the cost per ounces has dropped to 80 cents, down from $1.16 last year! Active ingredients include Avobenzone (3%), Homosalate (10%), Octisalate (5%), Octocrylene (4%), and Oxybenzone (5%).

>>Company claims it has developed drinkable sunscreen

>> Special Section: Your Guide to Summer FunThe historical favorite in this annual tally has been NO-AD Sport SPF 50 with Avobenzone, Aloe, and Vitamin E SPF 45. The NO-AD lotion scored a 69 this time out -- up 20 points from last year. The cost per ounce is 63 cents. Active ingredients include Avobenzone (2.0%), Homosalate (15.0%), Octisalate (5.0%), and Oxybenzone (5.0%).I was talking with a dermatologist last week and she said the real problem is too many people apply sunscreen too sparsely. You need to put gobs of it on your kids. My kids are conditioned to know that it's a five-minute ordeal while we slather them up before they can go out into the sun. It's a necessary precaution. But don't forget yourself either.If you're like me and grew up in the generation when nobody wore sunscreen, we're a ticking time bomb for skin cancer and melanoma. In many cases, early skin cancer detected is just a little aggravation that's easily treated. But undetected, it can grow into melanoma and cost you your life.Whatever sunscreen you get, be sure it says "broad spectrum" on the label for maximum protection.

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Best back-to-school jokes

Kids food allergies need extra back-to-school planning

If you think your kid is fussy about what they eat, you should try packing a lunch when your child has food allergies.

Or in the case of parent Karen Earle's second-grader, multiple food allergies.

"Since she as old enough to understand, we've talked about foods she can have and she cannot have," Earle said.

Earle also make sure to meet with all the teachers and adminstrators before the school year starts and makes sure they have an action plan.

"And her teachers are great about it," Earle said.  "It's never been an issue."

Earle says parents of children with food allergies have to keep the mental and emotional side of the issue in mind, as well as the physical symptoms.

For example, Earle makes sure that she always packs something special in her daughter's lunch, so if kids are celebrating something at the school like a birthday with something her daughter can't eat,  her daughter doesn't feel left out.

"She can still participate," she said.

Highlighter hues fuel back-to-school neon trend

Neon is a fashion trend that might be best suited to the cool kids — or real kids.

Unlike so many looks that trickled down from designer runways to mass retailers and into teenagers' closets, the almost electrifying shades of pink, green, yellow and orange have been hanging out in high school hallways for a while. And they're back again for the new school year.

"Teens stayed with neon because for them, it's so easy to wear. It taps into youth, emotion and standing out, which they like doing," says Seventeen senior fashion editor Marissa Rosenblum.

The highlighter colors have evolved this season into accessories, beauty products and outerwear. There are still the T-shirts, colored jeans, hoodies and athletic apparel, but Rosenblum says the way to wear neon is as a single bright pop, not head to toe. (It's probably a safe bet that lots of pint-sized athletes will buy into the bright footwear that has made Nike's track and field sneakers one of the most buzzed-about looks of the Olympics.)

"This is the season of color: color on color, color back to neutrals. Neons are just one of the amazing colortrends that are important right now," says Anu Narayanan, vice president of women's merchandising for Old Navy.

She'd like to see mint green jeans with a yellow neon tank with a gray cardigan. "Neon looks best as a surprise within a look."

For its largely grade-school customer, The Children's Place will pair neon with navy as the cooler weather moves in. The brand started introducing neon through bright accents for its summer products but "you'll see even more for the holidays," says TCP senior vice president of design Michael Giannelli. "And it will continue into the spring and probably into next fall. ... We grabbed onto it because we have more freedom in kidswear to play with bright color."

He adds, "The children have a sense of humor about their clothes."

Elena Klam is creative director and co-owner of the jewelry brand Lia Sophia, which is launching a fashion jewelry collection called Sisters aimed at the tween and teen set. It includes neon, preapproved by Klam's teenage daughters and their friends.

"They can be a tough crowd. They're changing all the time, reinventing themselves all the time, trying new things. It's an age of experimentation, but they're also a part of the population who knows what's going on," she says. "They're very savvy."

If everyone is wearing neon, they'll also want it for their accessories, says Klam, adding that schools with strict dress codes will likely allow superbright friendship bracelets or earrings. Her uniform-wearing girls don't get a lot of variety in their school-day clothes, so "they change up their jewelry for a little bit of self-expression."

She expects neon citrus yellow-green to be particularly popular with kids and — as with everything — neonpink. "You don't have to be the 'pink girl' when it's neon. That has a bit of an edge to it," Klam says.

Neon, however, isn't just a chick thing. Giannelli points to the 1980s, when it was a staple in every kid's wardrobe, and he says the skater-snowboarder-surfer look has brought brights back into favor for boys. "Skater kids and surfer dudes are wearing bright pinks and deep purples, and they're also getting into orange and banana."

These colors work surprisingly well in snow gear, particularly fleece, which often is done in one color and trimmed in another, Giannelli says.

Neon hues are probably more traditional for warmer months — and that's what makes them so fresh for fall, says Old Navy's Narayanan. Each year, it seems there are deep shades of brown and purple in stores, but shoppers might not have seen them with a top that has neon pink, she says. "The rules are out the window."

A word of caution, though, from Rosenblum: You might need to be a little more selective about a neon shade than you would a neutral.

"You have to choose the color that looks good on you. That funny off-green is definitely an important color but it's not for everyone. But all the colors for teens are very popular so you can find one."

Getting the school year off to a healthy start

Read King’s blog entries on raising kids at blog.childrensdayton.org.

Summer is winding down, and the school year is quickly approaching.

That means parents must take necessary health precautions to ensure their children are ready to head back to the classroom, according to experts.

We asked Dr. Melissa King, pediatrician and “Dr. Mom” blogger at Dayton (Ohio) Children’s Medical Center, to bring you the facts about everything from physicals to vaccinations for your child.

Q: Back-to-school time is quickly approaching. What do parents need to think about in regards to their children and health before kids head back to the classroom?

A: Have your kids received all required immunizations? Have you discussed with your child’s physician the vaccines that may not be required but are recommended by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics)?

Have you filled out any forms that the school has sent home, such as emergency contact and health information forms? Remember to complete all of the parent portions of the form.

Do the school nurse and teachers know about any medical conditions your child may have, particularly food allergies, asthma, diabetes and any other conditions that may need to be managed during the school day? Have you made arrangements with the school nurse to administer any medications your child might need?

Do the teachers know about any conditions that may affect how your child learns? For example, kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) should be seated in the front of the room, and a child with vision problems should sit near the board.

 

Q: When should parents start preparing their children for the school year, in regards to health concerns?

A: Starting in July or early August, you should contact your child’s doctor office to set up an appointment. It may take up to six or eight weeks to schedule a physical. Your insurance provider will only pay for one physical every 12 months. However, if you have concerns, problems or chronic health issues, then it is advisable to set up a visit before your child returns to school to discuss any limitations or restrictions.

Q: How often should children get physicals?

A: Annually.

Q: Why are physicals important for children?

A: Physicals are important for children because it is often the only time the child might see a doctor all year. This is a time for the physician or designated health care provider to touch base with both the child and their parent regarding growth issues and any questions they might have. They are also important for students participating in sports, to possibly address any health concerns related to that specific activity. A yearly physical with the same doctor also allows a relationship to be formed, which makes the child feel more comfortable, and the doctor is able to identify medical concerns because they are familiar with the child’s medical history.”

Q: How do vaccinations work?

A: “Vaccinations work by administering a dead or weakened version of the virus to the child. The body is then able to produce antibodies to fight this weakened virus. If you are ever exposed to the real disease, then your body will use the antibodies. … This is called immunity.

Q: Why should children get vaccinations?

A: To protect children from potentially serious or deadly illnesses. We have been pretty successful in the U.S., drastically reducing the incidence of certain illnesses such as mumps, rubella, polio and diphtheria with vaccination campaigns. Unfortunately, there is still more work to be done, and even with the vaccine successes, the absence of an illness in the U.S. does not mean that it is no longer an issue. Even if the virus is no longer present in the U.S., it is still important to get vaccinated to prevent the illness because of travel. There are numerous other countries that still have a high number of cases of vaccine preventable illnesses, and if your child comes into contact with one other person carrying the illness, without a vaccine they could be quickly be affected. There are also children that your child may go to school with who are unable to receive vaccines because of an underlying illness. These children become very vulnerable to an outbreak of an illness. We provide those children with more protection if we are able to vaccinate as many children around them as possible.

Q: What are the potential side effects of vaccinations?

A: Possible side effects include pain, fever, swelling at the injection site, rashes, hives, difficulty breathing and extreme irritability. Some side effects such as encephalopathy (a disease, damage or malfunction of the brain) or Guillain-Barre [syndrome] (a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system) are more serious but luckily more rare as well. I realize that if your child has a severe reaction to a vaccine, then in your world, complications from vaccines are not rare. However, if your child is infected with a vaccine preventable illness and becomes extremely ill or has complications from that illness, then in your world, the risk of infection from an illness that could have been prevented is not rare either. Parents should contact their child’s pediatrician if their child experiences any of these after a vaccine.

Q: What are the common myths about vaccinations? Why are these myths wrong?

A: Myth 1: “Vaccines don’t work.” — This is false. Most occurrences of diseases like polio, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps and now chicken pox have dramatically decreased since the introduction of the vaccines preventing each disease. The numbers of deaths related to influenza and whooping cough have declined as well; however, we still have too many of these cases as well.

Myth 2: “Vaccines aren’t necessary.” — Diseases that are prevented by vaccines still occur in the United States. If a child is not vaccinated against that disease, they are more likely to contract it. High immunization levels explain the dramatic decrease in outbreaks. If children are not properly vaccinated, the immunization level will decline, and outbreaks of the disease will increase. We have seen this occur with various illnesses worldwide when there is some trigger to vaccine avoidance.

Myth 3: “Vaccines aren’t safe.” — While some parents may worry about the side effects of vaccines, it’s important to note that pharmaceutical companies are under the strict supervision of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Vaccines are tested for years before they are approved, and all recommended vaccines are considered safe. Observation of vaccines and their safety in children also continues after the vaccine is in use. Anyone can report adverse events related to vaccines at the website vaers.hhs.gov.

Myth 4: “Infants are too young to be vaccinated.” — Many vaccine-preventable diseases strike children under the age of 2, so they are one of the most important groups to vaccinate.

Myth 5: “Vaccines weaken the immune system.” — Natural infections of certain viruses like chicken pox and measles without a doubt weaken the immune system; however, the viruses in vaccines are different from the ‘wild’ virus of the natural infection. Viruses in vaccines have been altered to the point where they will not weaken the immune system.

Myth 6: “Vaccines cause autism.” — This claim has recently been retracted, and there is no longer a link between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism. Studies found that the only connection between these events is age. The MMR vaccine is usually given to children around 15 months old, and the early signs of autism generally begin to show at about 2 years of age.

 

Q: What else should parents know about preparing their children for school health wise?

A: Prepare your children for adequate sleep each night. Discourage TV, computer or telephone use after a specific time in the evening so that children are not distracted by these electronic devices when they should be sleeping. If your child has become a night owl, then you will need to make them wake up a couple of hours earlier each day until they are mimicking their school schedule. Discourage naps.

Encourage your children to eat three meals a day and include milk, fruits and vegetables into their daily intake. Discourage skipping meals at any point in time. Ask your children about their eating habits when they are not with you. Encourage them to drink water.”

Encourage regular, daily exercise for at least one hour every day for your children.

How to help your kids love school

(This post originally appeared on Parenting.com)

 (This post originally appeared on Parenting.com)

This is the longest two weeks of my entire life!" my daughter, Elisabeth, groaned last December while flopping onto the sofa. At age 4, she was experiencing her first winter break from school  -- and she wasn't happy about it. She missed her teacher, her friends, her school routine. But the more she sighed, the more I celebrated. What better evidence that her first school experience was going well?

And now it's September. How can I ensure that Elisabeth's love of school stays with her as she adjusts to kindergarten, with a new classroom, teacher, and expectations? The key, say educators and parents who've been there, will be for me to stay involved in her school life, but not to focus on academics  -- yet.

"There's a wide range of readiness among young children for reading, writing, and adding. These skills will come in time. Meanwhile, your job is to help your kids view school as a happy place to be," says Carissa Olivi, a former preschool teacher who's now on the board of education in Orange, NJ.

For some children, a positive attitude about school may require coaxing, since school presents a lot of new challenges  -- being away from Mom, making new friends, taking turns. Here's how to help your child meet those challenges  -- whether he's starting kindergarten, preschool, or a two-mornings-a-week nursery program.

1.  BE PUNCTUAL

It's not always easy to get anywhere on time with little kids, but it's worth making an extra effort to be prompt on school days. "A child may feel like an outsider if the others are already there, engaged in activities," says Marilyn Gootman, author of The Loving Parent's Guide to Discipline.

Diane Max, a mother of three in New York City, finds it can be hard for her son, Jonah, now in kindergarten, to cross the threshold if the classroom is already bustling. "It's much easier for him if we get there a bit early," she says  -- especially on "high-risk" shyness days, such as the beginning of the school year and the first days back after vacation or illness.

Being on time at the end of the day is just as important. Standing alone while the other kids are happily reuniting with loved ones can cause a young child to worry that by going to school, she risks losing you  -- or getting lost.  

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2.  KNOW WHEN IT'S TIME TO GO

A main part of the "curriculum" for children starting school is learning to feel secure in the classroom even though they're away from Mom, Dad, or babysitter. You can help by trying to keep your own anxiety in check, as a child's fear is often fueled by his parents'. If you seem worried, he may decide school isn't a safe or nice place to be.

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3.  TEAM UP WITH THE TEACHER

If school doesn't go smoothly for a child, it's human nature to blame the teacher. But accusations are sure to backfire, even if the teacher really is part of the problem. If you accuse him, you put him on the defensive, which is counterproductive. "Instead, say in a nonthreatening way that you're concerned for your child, and ask how you can work together to solve the problem," says Gootman. "Teachers feel positive when they see that a parent cares and is interested and concerned but not breathing down their necks or telling them how to teach." They also find it helpful if parents alert them to any information they have about how children are feeling at school. For instance, some kids may be stoic if someone hits or teases them, but cry about it when they get home. It helps to keep the teacher in the loop.

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4.  RAISE YOUR HAND

To the degree that your schedule permits, help out in the classroom, participate in fund-raising, join the PTA, read the school newsletter. Your involvement lets your child know that his school is a part of your world, too. More than that, volunteering helps you watch out for your child's interests.

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5.  QUIZ YOUR KID

To build strong connections between home and school, you need to have a sense of what's going on in your child's classroom. Natalie Cull, a mother of three in Wildwood, MS, always sits her two oldest daughters, ages 10 and 7, down at the kitchen table in the afternoon and gives them 15 minutes of her undivided attention.

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6.   REINFORCE LESSONS

Whether your child's class studies butterflies, your hometown, baby animals, or holiday traditions, the topic is a way to train kids to think, remember, make connections, and theorize, all of which are foundations for future learning. You can help by stoking your child's curiosity and enthusiasm about whatever subject is being covered at school.

For example, Schwartz is planning a trip to the local science museum now that her 6-year-old son, Jeff, is studying rain forests in kindergarten. The night after an animal handler came to his class, he excitedly recounted to her how the lizard used its tail to defend itself. "His world had suddenly expanded. He was fascinated," says Schwartz.

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7.   CLEAR THE CALENDAR

Children don't really need a slew of extracurricular activities; even a half day of school can be stimulation enough. Exhausted, stressed-out kids have a harder time adjusting to school. So don't sign up your child for anything unless she's wildly enthusiastic and begging to go. And if she changes her mind, let her quit.

Schwartz says she made a mistake when she paid for an entire year's worth of dance lessons for her son when he was 5. "He really wanted to do it, but when it was time to go to class, he'd be playing with his brothers and I'd practically have to rip him away," she explains. "If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't pay for the whole year in advance."

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Decorations make school locker 'a symbol of me'

Kids, especially girls, have always hung photos, mirrors or handmade decorations in their school lockers. Now, retailers are giving them the option of buying coordinated locker trimmings that would make interior designers jealous.Options include carpeting, chandeliers, wallpaper and a variety of accessories in bold, bright colors. Everything adheres magnetically so the products don't damage the lockers.The trend gives kids a chance to express themselves in a venue that's more public than their bedroom."The locker becomes an extension of them and their personal space," said Christy Clapper, a school counselor at Quaker Valley Middle School in Sewickley, Pa. "It gives them an opportunity to say who they are and gives them an outlet for expression."Plus, it makes the space more attractive, added Kira Harvey, a soon-to-be eighth-grader in Albuquerque, N.M."The lockers are a disgusting color," she said. The wallpaper "makes it really pretty."She and her friends at Albuquerque Academy enjoy choosing decorations that suit their personalities. Choices range from lime-green polka dots to aqua zebra stripes to pink cheetah prints."It's really fun," said Kira, 13. "We all have our own wallpaper."She also uses some of the organizational accessories to hold her cell phone and pencils.Product creators Christi Sterling and JoAnn Brewer started their company, LockerLookz, in 2010 after creating some handmade pieces to decorate their daughters' lockers. Once other students saw the decorations, their parents started calling the women asking where they could buy them.The friends decided to test-market a few products and were overwhelmed by the response."We found that locker decorating is a rite of passage. It's a really big deal to them," said Sterling of Plano, Texas. "They need to show others who they are."Retailers also loved it, added Brewer, also of Plano.  "It's a time-sensitive product that helped to drive sales," she said.Paul Buckel got the idea to create magnetic wallpaper when his daughter's friend got in trouble for covering her locker with contact paper. Buckel, who runs a company, Magna Card, in DuBois, Pa., that makes magnetic business cards and other promotional products, saw locker decorations as an exciting new merchandise line.Dee Tipps, owner of a boutique called a.k.a. Girl Stuff in Birmingham, Ala., says she "started jumping up and down" when locker decorations caught her eye. The LockerLookz decorations flew off shelves last summer, she said, thanks mostly to middle-school girls."It's like somebody has opened a safe full of diamonds," she said.Caroline McCormick, 12, remembers walking into Tipps' boutique. "The first thing I thought was, 'How can I get this for my locker?'" she said. "I wanted to make my locker be a symbol of me. I didn't want my locker to look like everyone else's."She also was happy that she could cover the locker's dreary gray metal interior.After decorating the space with a white chandelier, blue carpet and black-and-white wallpaper, Caroline considered her locker "a room that's away from my house."Buckel said schools have gotten behind the products, especially because they don't damage the lockers. Some schools in his area have hosted decorating contests, he said.The organizational products are great for kids, said Clapper, the school counselor, who tries to teach students that an organized locker can contribute to academic success."We actually spend a lot of time teaching them appropriate ways to organize their lives and their space," she said. "Some kids coordinate everything. Others you can only imagine what their bedrooms look like."

Ditching the dorm room: off-campus decorating 101

For many college kids, the dorms are home for all four years, and they're happy campers. But for many others, the opportunity to move off-campus, into an apartment or house, is a welcome lifestyle change.

Along with more autonomy and privacy, living off-campus means setting up and taking care of a kitchen, bathroom, common space and more. So once the keys are in hand, here are some tips on decorating the off-campus nest.

 

PLANNING YOUR SPACE

Typically, kids choose a group of friends to live with to share costs. Once the home's been secured, have a group discussion about what the common spaces will look like, advises Sabrina Soto, Target's home style expert. Come prepared with a list of things that matter to you, but "be willing to compromise," she says.

There are sure to be taste differences among housemates, so it might be best to keep common spaces neutral. Janice Simonson, an IKEA design spokesperson, points out an added bonus to doing so: "A monochromatic or limited color scheme can go a long way towards visually calming a small, crowded space."

Paint is a good way to bring color and life to a room, if the landlord permits. If not, look for wall decals and posters. Instead of tacking up art with pushpins or tape, use inexpensive frames for a more grown-up look.

Double check on existing window treatments before heading for the curtain aisle. If you've got to buy, get twin packaged drapes, interesting fabric shower curtains in pairs, or easy stick up blinds like Redi-Shades.

 

COLLECTING STUFF

First, see what you can scrounge from families and friends or get secondhand. Find out if your space's current renters — often graduating students — are willing to leave large items. Fill in the holes with inexpensive pieces that can take some hard living.

Two students at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Aimee Ciancarelli and Rachel Michaud, got creative when they moved into a Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment together last January.

"At Goodwill, we found a vintage phone, a shelf and some cute bottles. We got a free couch and chair from Craigslist. And we decorated the walls with our own artwork," Ciancarelli says.

Bob Koch, a senior at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y., says his R2D2 trashcan gave his place some character, but the best purchase was "this huge beanbag chair — it was everyone's favorite thing in the apartment."

Simonson advises "multi-tasking."

"Invest in pieces like a sofa bed with slipcover that can convert to an extra bed and features storage underneath," she says.

Side tables like IKEA's Lack series can be grouped, and also used as seating. Shelving units do double duty as space dividers and clutter busters. Inexpensive mirrors can work as art, space expanders and convenient primping stations in a houseful of kids when everyone's getting ready at the same time.

Some retailers offer a shopping checklist: Target has one you can customize, sharing it on social media sites with roomies, and then printing it out at in-store kiosks or sending it to your smart phone.

If your sleeping space is now larger, consider getting a full-size bed.

"But invest in new bedding," Soto advises. "It's where you can really have fun with color, and define your personality."

A reversible comforter with a solid hue on one side and a pattern on the other gives you style options.

For an all-guy house, consider the Discos bed and bath collection from the online artwear collective Threadless; available at Bed, Bath and Beyond, it features an LP graphic. IKEA's got some bold, patterned bedding like Vannerna and Dvala.

Bath accessories with punch will make 8 a.m. classes easier to face. Kids' departments have whimsical items such as woodland-creature soap dispensers and girly textiles. Urban Outfitters has city map and batik-printed shower curtains that would suit a unisex bath.

Transition spaces like entryways need decor, too; get a console or bench to drop keys and mail, with a small accent lamp for late-night homecomings. Add some art and a washable rug.

"Floating shelves are one of my favorite shared-home solutions," Soto notes. "Without sacrificing floor area, they give you extra space and let you get creative."

Think about what you'll actually use and don't overbuy in the appliance department, or in electronics. And leave any treasures in a box or at home with your parents.

 

THE KITCHEN

A full-size kitchen will be new for most college renters. It can either be a super-size, cereal-soda-and-ramen depot or a place where fun, healthy meals come from. Buy items that are durable, microwavable and dishwasher-safe.

Walmart offers a good selection of stoneware dinner sets for under $30; Target has inexpensive, practical, white dinnerware and the Room Essentials' colorful utensils collection.

Is someone a budding chef or baker? Off-price stores such as Homegoods have several high quality brands for more serious cooks.  

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