The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a list of tips for talking with children about the novel coronavirus, including recommendations to remain calm and reassure them that they are safe. Leave it to a group of California teenagers to come up with a more entertaining way to educate kids about the basics of a disease some adults continue to have a hard time understanding.

For their capstone project in their economics class at Long Beach Polytechnic High, 15-year-old freshmen Lauryn Hong, Ella Matlock, Sofia Migliazza and Erin Rogers created a business plan for a coronavirus-themed coloring book. Then, with the requirements of the assignment fulfilled and at the encouragement of their teachers, they put what was supposed to be a theoretical plan to good use.

Rogers said her group’s newly established Be The Change Coloring Co. expected to sell 25 books, primarily to family and friends. In the first month, the girls sold roughly 500 copies and raised more than $1,000 for various charities, including several focused on coronavirus relief.

Jeff Montooth, who teaches government and economics at Poly, typically asks students to develop a business plan to address an environmental problem, combining what they learn in his class with their AP Environmental Science curriculum. When the coronavirus forced Long Beach schools to close in March, Montooth altered the assignment, giving students the option of tackling an environmental issue or imagining a charity-based business related to the disease. He pointed students to a website created by another Poly student that connects volunteers with those in need of help as one potential source of inspiration.

“We knew we wanted to do something for kids,” Hong, who has two younger sisters, said in a Zoom interview. “We also knew we wanted to give back to the community. We considered doing a mask-decorating kit, but we decided on a coloring book because we wanted the kids to learn something. Covid is really confusing, even for us, and the coloring book is a way to keep them entertained and help them learn.”

The 28-page book features advice for staying safe during the pandemic, including the importance of hand-washing, social distancing and spending a lot more time than usual at home. Three characters — Al E. Gator, Sam the Snail and Wally the Narwhal — explain the basics of the disease in simple language, with various activities — such as Tic-Tac-Toe, Mad Libs and a maze — sprinkled throughout. A children’s-sized mask is included in the back of every book.

Anyone who orders a book is given the option to donate 40 percent of the $5 sales price to a suggested charity or to write in a charity of their choice. Rogers said most donations have gone to coronavirus relief efforts, the Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital and the Black Lives Matter movement. A local printer, ABC Press, gave the girls a generous discount on production of the books, and when one of Montooth’s former students learned about the project on Instagram, she agreed to match donations through Microsoft’s employee giving program.

Hong, Matlock, Migliazza and Rogers are all in Poly’s PACE (Program of Additional Curricular Experiences) and became fast friends after meeting on the Jackrabbits’ swim team last summer. Unlike many school projects, they said their coloring book was truly a team effort. Matlock was responsible for most of the drawings, while Hong wrote the text, with her younger siblings and their friends offering feedback. Migliazza handled the activities and Rogers edited everything in Photoshop. Their work on the project picked up when school let out and the stress of studying for AP tests was behind them.

“It’s brought us closer together,” Rogers said. “We used to hang out a lot. I thought no one was going to talk anymore because of the coronavirus, and then we started having all these Zoom meetings. They were mostly focused on the book, but we ended up talking about other things.”

Montooth said it’s rare for his students to actually follow through with their business plans, but six or seven groups did this year, including one student who sold succulent arrangements and others who made masks.

“Out of our 80 teams, there’s probably 10 groups that are really amazing and a couple that blow you away every year, and this was one of those groups,” Montooth, who has taught at Poly for 17 years, said of the coloring book team. “I think it helps that they’re friends and because the project was real. They were all excited about their idea and having fun with it. As a teacher, the thing I am the most proud of is it’s relevant and it’s not about a grade. They’re doing it for other reasons, which is a dream come true.”

The girls, who have been featured in stories by multiple local outlets, have gathered in person on occasion to package, ship and hand deliver their books. They’re already hard at work on a second release, “Stand Up For Your-Shell-ves,” which aims to teach kids about racism and discrimination through the eyes of Sam the Snail. They intend to release a third book about children with special needs by the end of the summer.

When Rogers puts an order in the mail, she sends a text to the customer indicating the book is on its way and asks the customer to respond upon delivery. One of the best parts of the venture is receiving positive reviews from the target audience.

“Some people respond, ‘Oh, my child really liked this particular page,’ or ‘They really enjoyed this activity,’ ” Rogers said. “It’s really sweet. People are grateful about it, and that motivates us to get more out.”

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Hi, everyone! About a month ago, we announced our first book, the “COVID Coloring Book”. We received so much support and happy feedback on that one, that we have decided to create a few more. Our second in a series will be “Stand Up for Your-shell-ves”. Racism and other kinds of discrimination are huge issues, especially right now, and we know younger kids may not understand the topics very easily. We have used simpler ideas to explain the problems through a child’s perspective with a story and more information about discrimination in the past. With the help of one of our characters, Sam the Snail, we tell a story with a lesson that leads up to how you can prevent events like the ones that have recently happened. Showing respect for others is a phrase greatly repeated to little kids, but our book isn’t only focused on that. It’s the understanding of the topics, racism and other forms of discrimination, that will help them know why they need to be respectful. We would like to thank our teachers, Mr. Montooth and Ms. Schol, as well as Kandise Le Blanc and our parents for your huge amount of help with writing the book and giving us amazing ideas. The link to pre-order “Stand Up for Your-shell-ves” is on our website in our bio!

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