Swapping cafeteria tables for blankets and picnic baskets, students at Miller Elementary School crowded the playground field Thursday afternoon for a special "Lunch on the Lawn" with their parents and families.

"I've wanted to do this for quite a while, but there were little details we had to iron out," said Trinity Hamilton, assistant principal at Miller Elementary School, of the inaugural event. "Lunch on the Lawn is a great way for parents to come into the schools and build relationships within the community."

As students trickled out from their classes, sack lunches in hand, and made their way to the field in search of their families, a pair of speakers at the far end of the playground belted out kid-friendly versions of Top 100 hits. Families clung to the quickly disappearing shade while others opened umbrellas to provide relief from the midday sun.

Tucked away near the northeast corner of the playground, Miriam Martinez and her daughter, Emily, 5, sat on a zebra-striped blanket in the shade of a polka-dotted black umbrella. As she waited for her four other children to join them, Martinez said she could not recall having events similar to Thursday's lunch during her time as a student.

"It's nice to be around and help with whatever the school is doing," Martinez said.

Now joined by her son Roy and daughters Lya, Crystal and Jazlin, Martinez and her five children enjoyed their sunny lunch as students laughed and played between the sea of umbrellas.

One student, who shared a spaghetti meal with his mother and grandmother, said the event looked more like a party than a lunch and that he had a lot of fun.

According to Hamilton, the event creates an opportunity for teachers, parents and students to come together outside of a classroom setting.

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"Field trips are limited to one or two parents a year," she said. "This is a way for all of our families to be involved and communicate in an [unintimidating] way."

Hamilton hopes to make Lunch on the Lawn a recurring event for the school and that it will positively impact the school culture.

"I'm real pleased with the show of families -- it was a great turnout."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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Santa Maria Times reporter Mathew Burciaga covers education for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.