What About the Kids?

Offering insight at the start of the 2020-21 school year

More than a decade ago, the office supply chain, Staples, came out with a really funny TV ad to the music of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” In it, a dad scoops up school necessities as he dances rapturously with his shopping cart, with his kids — who sort of resemble Pugsley and Wednesday Addams on a bad day — dragging their feet in tow.

Year after year, Staples ran that inspired ad to the delight of parents ready to send their kids off to school. But this year has put the kibosh on that timeless humor, as school year 2020-21 ushers in a very serious look at what “back to school” really means for families everywhere.

Here, we share insight from Collier County Public Schools about the impact that returning to school in the traditional sense might have on our kids and how parents can facilitate that transition.

Our conversation with the executive director of New Horizons sheds light on the promise an after-school program presents for children who might otherwise be at risk, and our Hometown Hero, Mary Palizzotto, discusses what it means for children to have books of their very own.

We survey education apps and explore “decision fatigue,” something so familiar to us these days.

And finally, we sample the concept of advance meal preparation in hopes of lessening the practical parental load.

As we continue to offer an èXtra look at the shifting world around us, we hope you will join èBella in our commitment to inspiring and empowering everyone in the world around us.

Be safe. Be well.


in this issue



The Gift of Reading

Mary Polizzotto helps children feel the magic of owning their own books

by Brooke Stiles

With the help of Mary Polizzotto, Books for Collier Kids (BCK) has, since 2005, distributed more than 1.2 million books to children in low-income families.

As book distribution chair, she has carried out BCK’s single mission: providing new books to children in need. From pre-K to second grade, children in all 20 of Collier County’s Title 1 elementary schools receive a book per month.

Polizzotto works with teachers to select age-appropriate books that support and reinforce the classroom curriculum, then orders and coordinates the distribution of books, assuring they end up in the hands of children who may have never had the privilege of owning a book of their own.

USE THIS Mary Polizzotto.jpg

“The first time you go into a classroom where the majority of the children are from low-income homes and don’t have books — and then you hand them a book with their name on it to take home —  they just explode,” she says.

With a doctorate in education and literacy, Polizzotto understands the correlation between how many books a child has contact with and their school success.

“In a middle-class home, children have access to about 350 books per child,” she says. “But in a low-income home, there’s about one book per 300 kids.”

Access to books is one of the biggest threats to children’s literacy. So, even a worldwide pandemic couldn’t stop Polizzotto from getting books to kids in need.

When Collier schools closed in early March, she immediately went to work with the school district to ensure children received their books for April and May. Still, she worried about the summer months, when reading skills tend to fall behind, especially for kids of low-income households.

BCK already works with many local organizations and their summer school programs to fight the summer slide, but this year, Polizzotto managed to find funding to double the number of books for not just early readers, but for needy children in grades 1-8, as well.

“Some of these children have never even held a book before,” she says. “But the smiles and body language of children receiving their first book tell me this is a good way to spend my time.”

Mary Polizzotto

Not Your Ordinary Back to School

Parent-educator collaboration is more important than ever

by Kathy Grey

A University of Phoenix study revealed that 75% of parents are worried about the lasting effects of their child(ren)’s academic progression, and 68% are worried about their kids’ social development if they opt away from the traditional in-school experience.

As parents wrap their heads around the back-to-school options available to their children in Southwest Florida, there’s more to consider than a wardrobe of masks and wraparound protective eyewear. Parents and guardians must also consider the social impact the new world of education presents to their children.  

Allison Ferraro and Steve McFadden are coordinators of school counseling — grades 9-12 and K-8, respectively — in Collier County Public Schools (CCPS).

The good news, they tell us, is that our kids are pretty expert in distance socialization. Perhaps unlike their grandparents and even their parents, social media has equipped our school-age children with the skills they need to connect with each other in remote settings.

Whatever your opinion about kids on social media, this is a relative confirmation that school children had the skills to connect with each other well before the COVID-19 pandemic came ashore.

Ferraro and McFadden are entrenched in the social and emotional learning (SEL) steps the school district is enacting in its CCPS Family Moving Forward initiative at the start of the 2020/21 school year.

In addition to specialized, age-appropriate curricula and conversations CCPS will present in this pandemic era, Ferraro and McFadden emphasize the need for partnerships between parents and educators. They remind us that much of our children’s social and emotional resilience is learned at home, well before students step foot into any school. Homeschooled or in-school, our children’s most profound role models are their parents and guardians, who play key roles in how children respond to life — in and out of the educational environment. Their influence shapes a child’s perception, Ferraro says.

“We might model fear, but we also have opportunities to model kindness and building the community.”


Collier County school officials are counting on the partnership between parents and guardians and the district to help children navigate the new world of education and socialization.

As prepared as McFadden, Ferraro and all members of the school district are in facing the unknown as students return to school, they do anticipate a degree of social regression.

“It’s not because (students are) being insubordinate or antisocial,” McFadden says. “They’re just rusty.”

“Rusty” is typical for the beginning of any school year, but this school year promises to deliver more rust than ever, and CCPS is ready. Students will be engaged in conversations about their experiences, and they will be asked how the school district can support them and their families.

“Parents and the school district are all collaborating and working together,” says Chad Oliver, CCPS’ executive director of communications and community engagement.

“We’re moving forward.”


Stay Tuned
Area school district websites keep you up to date

Stay abreast of the latest K-12 county school information by checking regularly with the following websites.

For Collier County, visit www.collierschools.com.

For Lee County, go to www.leeschools.net.


Help for Online Learners

Resources to help kids succeed in virtual learning

When it comes to sending children to school this year, parents are divided. According to a Gallup poll, a slight majority of parents (56%) said they want their children to attend schools full time when the time comes.

Both sides — parents who want their kids to go back to school and those who prefer distance learning in this environment — have reason for apprehension. On one hand, sending children to school proposes a health risk due to COVID-19. On the other, virtual learning modalities are far from perfect, and parents have reasons to believe that their child’s education and social skills could be at risk.

The National Education Policy Center studies student performance in online learning models and found that, on average, academic outcomes are lower than that of students attending brick-and-mortar schools. However, hybrid models of both in-person and online seem to be effective.


Whether or not parents decide to put their child back in school, many are looking for quick, easy ways to boost learning from home. The following educational apps for children to try may be an answer:


Coolmath Games

Coolmath Games features math activities and games for kids age 13 and up, making it ideal for both students and guardians who want to refresh their skills.

Fish School

For preschoolers, Fish School displays important concepts like numbers, shapes, colors, letters and more, all in the fun form of brightly colored schools of fish.


PBS Kids Games

Based on popular PBS children’s shows, the education organization has created hundreds of games for children of all ages. Characters Peg + Cat take kids on educational adventures from their homes.

WGCU At-Home Learning

Local PBS affiliate, WGCU, is airing a weekday television schedule of education programs aligned to state standards. The programming can be viewed from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on WGCU’s main channel. A variety of at-home learning options are available for various grade levels. Additional digital learning resources are available throughout the WGCU Kids website, wgcukids.org/.

Deciding to Stop Deciding

Author shares five tips to thwart “decision fatigue”

Decisions, decisions.

Sometimes it can be difficult to choose what to have for breakfast. Now, in these times, people are faced with difficult decisions at every turn, something that results in what Judy Gaman describes as “decision fatigue.”

Gaman studies health and longevity as an author, public speaker and the CEO of Executive Medicine of Texas. We asked her about the concept of decision fatigue and how to handle it.

èB: What is decision fatigue and what are its causes?

JG: Each day, we only have so much mental bandwidth. We conserve that bandwidth when we switch back and forth between autopilot and making decisions.

Decision fatigue is what happens when we’re faced with decision after decision without rest. A good example of this is a typical drive to work. Most people go the same way every day and can get there with little to no extra effort. If the road’s closed and you have to detour, you may be faced with multiple decisions. “Should I take a right or a left?” “Would it be faster to just turn around?” You eventually arrive at work, seemingly tired from the ordeal.

Now, imagine what has happened to all of us as we stay home and adjust to a new way of life. Kids may be home. Work is mostly on the computer. There are distractions everywhere.

Decisions are being made moment by moment. “Should I grab a snack?” “Can I just sneak a peek at my social media?” “Get dressed or stay in sweats?”


For some of us, it’s an hour-by-hour reassessment, and all these little decisions that we may not even be aware of zap our energy and keep us from facing the bigger, more important decisions of the day. 

èB: Can you share your five applicable tips to combatting decision fatigue?


JG: 1. Turn off automatic notifications on your phone and computer. Believe it or not, every notification from Outlook, your news app and social media forces you to make another decision. To open or to ignore: that is the pressing decision. If you do choose to open, you may be looking at another decision to make: to act or not to act on that information. And so it goes.

2. Pick out your clothes the day before. This is a trick that I learned from Lucille, the centenarian that I wrote about in my memoir, “Love, Life and Lucille.” This simple act keeps you from making a forced decision the moment you wake up.

3. Make a list of the things you want to accomplish for the day. The list will help keep you on task. When you wonder what to do next, the decision will be right in front of you.

4. Meal plan. Even if it’s only a couple days ahead of schedule. Four or five in the afternoon is not the time to decide what to eat. Besides, the decision of what to eat is followed by myriad other small decisions.

5. When you’re exhausted from decisions, recognize it and make one last decision: the decision to not make any more decisions. Be still and recharge your mental bandwidth.


Judy Gaman is the CEO of Executive Medicine of Texas (www.emtexas.com) and is an award-winning author and speaker. Learn more at www.JudyGaman.com


Blossoming Once More

Preschool of the Arts director discusses children as a priority

by Julia Browning

For Ettie Zaklos, the preschool she founded and directs has always been a labor of love — long before COVID-19 prematurely shut its doors.

She founded Naples Preschool of the Arts (POTA) 10 years ago, with just her own two daughters enrolled. Since then, the school has grown to include hundreds of families.

“None of us could have anticipated the pandemic that would force us to close our physical doors,” Zaklos says. “We immediately pivoted, with a commitment to support our entire POTA community — our families, our children, and the staff who depend on us — with an online preschool that kept us all connected.”

Each week, teachers mailed packets of materials to each student’s home. They created an online learning portal nearly overnight with complete video lessons, resources and support materials.

Though the online modality was effective, for Zaklos and her team, engaging with children on campus is a necessity. So, Zaklos says they’ve “overhauled their programs to implement the highest level of safety guidelines.”

This includes each class being isolated from the others, temperature checks, no on-campus visitors, playground and high-touch area sanitation and teachers and staff wearing masks — all safety measures, which proved effective during the six-week Summer of the Arts program in June and July.

“It was amazing to witness how the children responded to returning to school after three months at home,” Zaklos says. “They were like fish back in water! They accepted every new change at face value and were so thrilled to be back with their friends and teachers again. Children who had regressed at home, blossomed once more. Children who were doing just okay started to thrive.”


Ettie Zaklos


Though Zaklos stresses the pros of sending children back to school — social/emotional skills, stability, allowing parents to return to work — she supports parents who choose to keep their children home.

“We know that parents are their child's best advocates and will make the right decision for their family,” she says. “Whether you are homeschooling or sending your child back to a program, my advice for any preschool parent is to remain calm and reassure children about any changes to their routine; answer their questions honestly, but not in a way that causes them to worry; teach practical safety habits like handwashing; and provide lots of positive attention.”

POTA falls under the umbrella organization of Chabad of Naples, which has responded to the pandemic by distributing 10,000 reusable masks to the public, as well as assisting with basic needs such as food, shopping and gifts for those most effected, including citizens in Immokalee and health care workers.

“Our community is strong,” Zaklos says. “We are resilient. Right now, we must look out for each other and prioritize our children and vulnerable populations who need us most.”


Lifting Barriers to Rise Above

New Horizons helps at-risk youth gain life-changing education and mentorship

by Julia Browning

Super Teens enjoy Game Day during camp.j

Super Teens enjoy Game Day during camp


With questions about the upcoming school year at the forefront of the national conversation, parents worry their children’s education could be at risk.

But schooling options are limited for parents providing for their families from paycheck to paycheck. Fortunately, programs exist to help at-risk youth receive a quality education, a service that’s more important than ever.

“It is in times such as these that our mission becomes even more vital for the communities we serve,” says Linda Cunning, executive director of New Horizons of Southwest Florida. “Working with anti-poverty programs for many years, I have witnessed that poverty is not just about a lack of income. Poverty has multiple dimensions that keep someone from rising above the weight of it.”

Limited access to resources, systemic racism and language barriers are challenges students at New Horizons continually face.

It’s “like vines wrapped around a person, pulling them deeper down,” Cunning says. But education can be a tool to pull children out from under the weeds.

New Horizons offers a range of after-school summer programs specifically designed for socioeconomically disadvantaged students in kindergarten through 12th grade, who live in homes where English is not the primary language.

“The goal is to empower at-risk students to graduate from high school with a plan for their lives. The high school graduation rate of New Horizons students is 93% over the past 10 years,” Cunning says.

To continue to help in this time of great uncertainty, Cunning and her team are formulating multiple planning rubrics, so they’ll be able to adapt quickly as schools make ongoing decisions.

When COVID-19 hit, New Horizons moved online with daily tutoring programs, providing students with computers, so they could keep learning over the summer.

“This was not easy, with many technical and safety reasons, yet it served our families and students well,” she says.

Cunning’s strategic planning came in handy as she became New Horizons’ executive director at the beginning of March, just as COVID-19 was beginning to affect the population.

“Starting right when the pandemic hit was difficult, but as a strategic thinker, as well as being called in to consult when organizations are struggling, I have enjoyed working with the New Horizons team to build their capacity, while adapting and changing, organizationally, to meet the needs of our community,” she says.

Cunning is certain New Horizons’ programs are working and making a difference in children’s and teens’ lives.

“One of our graduates said it best: ‘My life would not have turned out the same if it was not for New Horizons’ teachers and volunteers.’ This honors student,” Cunning says, “had the people around her to walk alongside, lifting barriers together for her to rise above.”

To learn more about New Horizons of Southwest Florida, visit www.newhorizonsofswfl.org. 


“The Machine Lady”

Trim & Tone offers the latest technology to keep clients safe while they treat their bodies

by Julia Browning

Shelle Misiorowski, owner of Trim & Tone Med Spa in Naples, is known around town as “The Machine Lady.” The latest gadget she’s offering her clients fits right into that reputation — and it just might be the perfect skin care device in the time of COVID-19.

The LED Perfect Skin Shield is a plastic face shield that incorporates healing lights that treat skin conditions, while clients protect themselves from airborne diseases.

“I’ve got all sorts of gadgets,” Misiorowski says. “If I don’t have it, you don’t need it. But this latest gadget that I have, I’m just stoked about it, because you can protect yourself and stimulate your collagen at the same time.”

The shield has three light settings: red, amber and blue, which all offer different healing properties for the skin. Red stimulates collagen production for reducing wrinkles; blue kills bacteria for reducing acne; and amber repairs hyperpigmentation and sun damage.

The shield is popular in celebrity circles, most notably advertised on Kourtney Kardashian’s website, Poosh. But Trim & Tone will be the first place in Florida to sell the healing shields, Misiorowski says, and at a reduced cost of $125 compared to $190.

“With this shield killing two birds with one stone, you can breathe a little better and you can turn it on, stimulate your collagen, get rid of your acne or get rid of your brown spots, while you’re protecting your face,” she says.

Misiorowski is constantly researching to stay abreast of the latest trends in her medical spa industry, arming herself with the best instruments to ensure high-quality services.

Another tool she’s known for is the Cryoskin. The handheld device kills 44% of fat cells while tightening the skin, Misiorowski reports.


Before and after a Cryoskin treatment  
Trim & Tone Med Spa/Courtesy Photo

“What happens is, I put ultrasound gel on, say, the abdomen,” she explains. “The device heats up the cell tissues for two minutes. After that, the temperature drops to below zero, so your fat cells are going through a thermo-cryo shock. In 45 minutes, I’m taking an inch off someone’s abdomen.”

The machine tones muscle naturally by pumping fresh red blood cells to the muscle fibers, helping to tighten loose skin and reduce cellulite.

In addition to being known for her gizmos and gadgets, she’s also known for her dedication to cleanliness. A self-described “clean freak,” Misiorowski notes her compulsion for cleanliness is crucial while catering to clients during a pandemic.

“I’ve got one person coming in at a time. That’s the new normal,” she says, adding that she sanitizes between sessions and keeps the door locked until the next client’s appointment.

“People are feeling comfortable coming into my place,” she says. “I would have never thought I’d be this busy during a pandemic. But I’m feeling blessed.”

“You’ve got to give to get,” Misiorowski says, so Trim & Tone Spa is giving away a free service to a new, randomly selected email subscriber. Email Trimandtonespa@gmail.com to enter. To learn more, visit www.trimandtonemedspa.com.


Five Tips for Food Prepping

Planning ahead can make mealtime a fun time

We’re staying at home more, but that doesn’t mean we want to be in the kitchen 24/7, especially at the beginning of the school year.

Food prepping, the process of making meals ahead of time for meals throughout the week, allows people to be more efficient and make more time for family activities — especially as the school year approaches and schedules are getting tight.

Here are some tips to help you prep like a pro:

1. Choose the Right Meals

When it comes to leftovers, some meals simply aren’t appetizing after a few days of storage, such as leafy greens, which are prone to wilting. Stick to foods that heat up nicely, like soups, casseroles and chili. As a general rule, choose meals for food prep that you know your family loves. If it is your child’s favorite food, they’re much more likely to eat it a few days in a row.

2. Plan Ahead

Now that you’ve determined which foods make the best leftovers, plan in advance with a detailed grocery list. Dedicate a full afternoon (or morning or evening) to cooking. As you’ll be making food for the entire week, you’ll need a few hours to cook.


3. Invest in Good Containers

You don’t want to spend time meal prepping, just to have it go to waste with faulty containers. Invest in high-quality, airtight containers so that spills and spoilage are not a concern. Glass containers are a good choice as glass is resistant to staining and smells of flavor retention.

4. Have Fun with It

Meal prepping can be fun. Play your favorite music as you prep and cook. Coordinate distance cooking time by Skype or Zoom with a friend who has also climbed aboard the prepping train. Incorporate your family in the process and make it celebration of food. Try a new recipe to keep it fresh, interesting and entertaining.

5. Explore the Sites

Any traveler venturing into the unknown will tell you the experience started with the first step, and the internet offers many prep-ahead sites worth exploring to get you on your way.

Try Good Housekeeping’s 31 Easy Make-Ahead Meals to get you started (click here).

Epicurious offers 65 Make-Ahead Weeknight Dinner Recipes (click here).

Food Network followers can take comfort in its assortment of make-ahead freezer meals (click here).

However you choose to do it, taking the food-prep journey can be as joyous as it is practical for filling family bellies on a time-saving budget.

Enjoy the epicurean adventure!