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Sarasota teens create teaching tool to help young kids understand COVID-19

“The product is fabulous, but watching these young people create it just gave me a lot of hope for the future," Laura Kingsley said.

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — Explaining the coronavirus to young kids can be difficult, especially when it comes to all the changes schools are having to take to keep them safe.

So, a group of student volunteers put their heads together to come up with a way to help.

“How can we help with school reopening, and also just general education for younger kids because there’s not a lot of resources right now,” Mimi Faulhaber said.

Faulhaber and a group of students at the Suncoast Science Center Faulhaber Fab Lab wanted to come up with something that would really make an impact. And, they were in the right place.

This lab is a resource for anyone interested in learning about science and technology. And through the Student Community Innovation Program, high school and college students were given the opportunity to give back to their community.

Twelve student volunteers and their mentors dedicated their summer to figuring out a solution to help with school reopening and create a resource that helps kids better understand COVID-19.

"All of us definitely understand what it was like to either have school canceled and go home or start doing it online and while it was hard enough for us as people who are high school and college students, it must be even harder for kids who can't really fully grasp the scope of everything that's happening in the world right now,” said Alyssa Steinbaum, a college sophomore working on the project.

They decided to create a website they call “COVIDucation.” It uses interactive storytelling to explain viruses and safety in a way little kids will understand.

"A little boy in the story learning all the information just like everybody else,” Steinbaum said. “And we thought it would be kind of fun to have him being taught by a knight because we all are kind of fighting this disease in our own way and I think it was a very metaphorical way to go about that."

For any kid, this story is a page-turner. And an educational one at that. Plus, it lends a helping hand to parents.

“We have the kid learning about COVID, understanding why he was sent home in the first place, and then how he can on his own can help everyone stay safe and also be able to go back to school safely,” Steinbaum said.

Most of the work was done virtually over zoom.

“It was a fun experience to, you know, be able to take these things I’m interested in and use it directly to benefit the community,” said Michael Gutierrez, a student volunteer on the project.

Gutierrez says it took a lot of content development, user interface design and coding. He says Google was also a big help in the process. And in less than 2 months, the volunteers delivered a resource now used by all Sarasota County elementary schools.

“From start to finish, every aspect of it is just beautifully done,” said Laura Kingsley, the assistant superintendent for academics in Sarasota County. "This was visual; it was engaging, and it was kid-friendly. This is a big relief for our families."

Kingsley says she couldn’t be prouder that students in her own district created this website.

“The product is fabulous, but watching these young people create it just gave me a lot of hope for the future,” Kingsley said.

That’s all anyone ever wants to hear about their hard work.

"It feels really validating to me personally,” Gutierrez said. “It's so cool to know that this entire school district is actually using it and getting a lot out of it."

Kingsley hopes more school districts will implement COVIDucation in their schools.

But for now, if you want to check it out it’s available online here.

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