Middleton High School graduate creates hands-on kit to help families have conversations about coronavirus

“I wanted to put my foot forward to do what I could,” said Sophia De Oliveira, who is creating lung model kits for families.
Published: Jan. 6, 2021 at 6:00 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 6, 2021 at 10:54 PM CST
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MIDDLETON, Wis. (WMTV) - When she learned that some parents were facing anxieties over how to speak to their young children about COVID-19, Middleton High School graduate Sophia De Oliveira decided to create a resource to help facilitate talking about the tricky topic.

De Oliveira, now a student at Yale University, is also the president of Project Empower, a nonprofit whose mission is to empower students of minority backgrounds to pursue careers in STEM. Usually, De Oliveira said the nonprofit does in-person work with students. Due to the pandemic, they pivoted to creating STEM kits to deliver to students instead.

“During that process we talked a lot to parents and we heard a lot about how they were uneasy about sending their children to school, and rightfully so,” she said. “How they didn’t know how to have that conversation with their child because they’re young and COVID can be a heavy subject.”

Hearing from those parents inspired De Oliveira to create a new kind of kit – a lung model kit.

“We had the idea of making a kit to kind of facilitate that conversation,” she said.

The kits are free to families. Inside, families will find a story booklet with instructions on how to make the lung model, and the materials needed to form it, such as a sponge to form the lungs, straws to form the trachea, and pipe cleaners to represent cartilage.

De Oliveira said the idea is that students use the stethoscope included in the kit to listen to the lungs as they blow through the straw, to represent normal air flow. Then, students would soak the sponge in soapy water, and again try to blow through the straw while listening through the stethoscope. The difference represents inflammation and the affect COVID-19 has.

Upon doing research, De Oliveira found most resources available to families were based on guiding questions. However, De Oliveira said they wanted something more hands-on.

“I think with such a heavy topic like COVID, actually having the child be able to take control of their learning, have it in their hands, it’s just incredibly empowering for the student,” she said. “What we wanted to do was make sure we were getting across that you know what, we are in a pandemic right now, but there are also decisions you can make to help make it better for a lot of people and you are in control of those decisions.”

De Oliveira said she consulted with experts, such as doctors and child psychologists, to make sure the kit would be beneficial for children. Ultimately, she said she knew she had to try to do something to help families navigate what can be a difficult topic.

“You think about how the holidays have passed and how all these people have an empty chair,” she said. “Sitting here and knowing that I have the ability to do something, even if it’s small. I knew if I didn’t take that chance I would regret it probably forever. I wanted to put my foot forward to do what I could.”

For more information on Project Empower and the lung model kits, click here. For more information on how to help support the kits, click here.

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