As the summer ends, schools everywhere have rituals to begin the academic year such as scavenger hunts, kite flying and pancake breakfasts. But when Our Lady of Fatima School in San Clemente kicked off its own school year, the school chose a ritual that was pure Southern California. On Aug. 22, the schoolchildren, teachers and moms went to the beach, bringing with them picnic lunches and boogie boards.

T Street Beach is hard to find if you’re unfamiliar with San Clemente’s curvy streets. Accessed by a covered overpass spanning the Amtrak rails and featuring pebbly sand, modest surf, few tourists, a family friendly atmosphere and a sometimes-open snack bar, it has the kind of ambience that made Our Lady of Fatima’s Back to School Beach Family Day a success.

“It’s a family day that’s a traditional event,” explained school marketing director Andy Brosche. “It’s been going on for years. I’m an alumnus and when I was a child, even way back then we used to do this. It’s a casual tradition when families come to the beach and the kids have a blast in the water.”

Brosche explained that many families have several children, one of whom may have graduated, while their other children are returning to Our Lady of Fatima. And then there are new families they’ve never seen before.

“There’s nothing that’s scarier for a child or a family than coming to a new school and not knowing people,” he said.

The beach day is organized by Parents of Fatima, the school’s version of the PTA.

“This is a great way to have fellowship,” said Brosche. “It’s hard to connect with people when you’re on campus doing a walkup, drop-off and school related things.”

The beach gathering is a way for families to meet in a positive way, while getting parents involved in their kids’ education.

Becky Coney, a Parents of Fatima member, observed, “Fatima School is a hidden gem here in San Clemente. We have incredible teachers and a parent community that’s tight-knit.”

Mom Stacy Loftus echoed her sentiments.

“Everybody talks to each other. It’s a wonderful environment,” she said.

The kids got down to the basics quickly when asked what they liked the most about the day.

“THE BEACH,” chorused fourth-graders Gemma Price, Alva Diekhoff and Sydney and Ally Loftus.

At a modest two and a half feet, the surf was far below standards for long boarders, but lots of students tried their hands at boogie boards, usually giving up after a few passes. Others stayed on the beach – regular hodads! – digging holes in the sand for fun or doing cartwheels along the shoreline.

With only seven weeks on the job, school principal Brett Minters expressed the importance of the event.

“The long-standing T Street beach day is all about community,” he said. “This day lets the students interact with their new classmates and create new friendships.”

He added, “It’s beautiful – and it sure beats the office.”