LOS ANGELES - The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives of millions of people across the globe, including children, and four high school students set out to help parents explain the difficult shift in reality to their kids.
To help parents have effective conversations with younger kids about the novel coronavirus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted a list of suggestions, which includes remaining calm and reassuring children about their safety, among other things.
But the four high schoolers decided that they could make a more entertaining and hands-on way to help kids understand a disease that confuses even adults — with a coloring book.
Freshmen Lauryn Hong, Ella Matlock, Sofia Migliazza and Erin Rogers, all 15 years old, were tasked with making a business plan for their economics class at Long Beach Poly High School. Originally, they discussed making a project that aimed to solve an environmental problem.
But then, they got stuck in quarantine.
That’s when the students shifted their attention to educating younger children about the coronavirus. As older kids stuck at home, the girls decided to help teach kids who might not know as much about the pandemic in a fun, hands-on way.
“If they didn’t have anything to do at home, they can have fun coloring,” said Erin. “It’s just a good activity for kids to do and it helps them learn, so it’s like killing two birds with one stone.”
The 28-page coloring book was fully produced by the four students: Ella and Sophia drew the drawings, Lauryn did the writing, and Erin put it all together in Photoshop.
It features three characters — Al E. Gator, Wally the Narwhal and Sam the Snail — that walk children through fun games and coloring exercises, while educating them on the importance of wearing a mask, washing their hands and protecting vulnerable neighbors.
“We know that parents tell their kids to wash their hands, but we wanted to make a more fun way for kids to learn about protecting yourself from the coronavirus. So we made little games for it, like mazes to help find a mask,” said Ella.
Lauryn said that the group’s newly established company, Be the Change Co., was initially only planning on selling 25 copies of the coloring book. They were pleasantly surprised when, within the first month, they had to order roughly 500 copies from the printer.
Those who place an order on their website are given the option to donate 40% of the $5 price to a charity or non-profit organization of their choice. Most of the donations have gone to local hospitals, the CDC and Black Lives Matter.
There is even a “buy one, give one” option that donates a book to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital with every purchase.
“We knew that we weren’t going to keep any of the money because our whole purpose was to educate kids and give back to the community,” said Ella. “In the end, all our money is going to to go to organizations and we will not profit off of it.”
The friends hope they can encourage kids to know that while the novel coronavirus is a serious disease, as long as “you follow what you’re supposed to do and you’re educated about it,” everything will be OK.
“We don’t want them to be too scared,” said Sofia. “We know it’s serious, but we don’t want to scare them completely so that they’re scared to live.”
To encourage kids to look back at their experiences in quarantine more positively, the book features a “Quaran-Time capsule” that echoes a familiar practice at the end of a school year. Readers can write in their favorite quarantine food or TV show so that their future selves can favorably remember their time in social isolation.
The girls have been working hard to package, ship and hand-deliver their books to customers. The huge success of their coronavirus coloring book inspired them to think about other topics that could use the same exposure.
The young entrepreneurs are already working hard on their second release, “Stand Up For Your Shell-ves,” which aims to teach kids about racial injustice and discrimination through the eyes of Sam the Snail.
Although their success was unexpected, the girls are encouraged by the public response and hope to ignite a spark in anyone with a passion, no matter their age.
“We never thought this would come out this way,” Erin said. “And it sounds really corny or cheesy, but if you believe in yourself, it can really happen.”“
We’re creating a business that’s going towards all these funds for special organizations and it’s helping people out in some way. I think we should be proud of that.”