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Back-to-school style: If you wear a uniform, it's all about shoes and hair

Going back to school in the Los Angeles Unified School District starts early: Teachers, district officials, members of the media and students arrived at El Sereno Middle School before 5 a.m. Some woke as early as 3 a.m., and when they arrived, the only lights visible in front of the school were those from the TV cameras.

Inside the building, the empty hallways were shiny white. New principal Joyce Dara claims they'll stay this way. There's artwork from students, and some anti-bullying posters on the walls.

Among the early birds: three kids from the University of Southern California Neighborhood Academic Initiative. The program allows students and parents to attend classes together on the weekends, starting in middle school, and ultimately covers some USC tuition.

The students wore khaki pants with white USC polos and red USC hats. The school dress code is khaki pants, with a blue or white collared shirt. The kids spoke to Education Matters about how they set themselves apart fashion-wise.

In other words, these are the shoes of LAUSD.

Emily Suarez, 13, eighth grade

Emily lives in Watts, but she comes to El Sereno in East L.A. for the USC program.

What does she add? Black Converse sneakers. "I add my Converse because I love Converse," she said.

She also wears two bracelets. One, from Hot Topic, is black and imprinted with the words "saving people, hunting things" — the catch phrase from the show "Supernatural," which she spent the summer watching on Netflix. The other side says "the family business."

The second bracelet is from her mom and represents blessings, with images of the sun and stars and a happy girl. She's been wearing it since first grade. "It's very meaningful to me because it reminds her that every day is going to be a good day," said her mom, Maria Cruz, a teachers’ aid at another LAUSD school.

Nelson Henriquez, 13, eighth grade

Nelson is in the dual-immersion program at El Sereno. He learns Mandarin at school and speaks Spanish, which he learned at home. He's been studying Mandarin since first grade at City Terrace Elementary. He lives nearby in the East L.A. community of City Terrace. "I'm very proud to be in my East L.A. community," said his mom, Irma Henriquez.

She spends about $100 on back-to-school shopping. The biggest cost is the shoes, which they bought a month ago from the Nike store at the Citadel outlets for about $45. The shoes are black with red lining and laces. Nelson hopes they will set him apart from other students fashion-wise. He also sometimes wears an El  Salvador necklace, a flag from his family’s country that has his name on it.

Addison Garcia, 13, eighth grade

Addison is also in the Mandarin dual-language program and came to school before dawn Tuesday along with his parents, Martha and Adam Garcia.

He went to math summer school at East L.A. College, though his favorite class is history. Addison's favorite historical figure is George Washington — not only because he was the first president, but also because they share a birthday. Like Nelson, Addison's family's biggest back-to-school purchase was shoes, and his new black Nikes (he's been wearing them for about a month) were chosen because they were on sale.

Addison also likes to set himself apart with his hair, and his dad helps him. "I take a shower, and then when it dries, I use my gel." After wearing a USC hat for about an hour, his hair lies a little flat, so his dad fluffs it up in style for a picture. 

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