Kolo’s Unique Return to School: How a UW Student is Helping Children Navigate COVID-19

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By Sara Ibrahim

In the summer of 2020, Sara Ibrahim discovered a problem. Home from university for several months, Ibrahim noticed that her younger siblings and their friends were anxious about their eventual return to school.

Noting that adults sometimes struggled to comprehend the evolving guidelines as well, Ibrahim decided to write a book that would alleviate the struggle for students and their families. 

Soon, Kolo’s Unique Return to School was born. 

“The inspiration behind my book came from seeing kids confused about COVID-19 and changes to their school routine, and also being overwhelmed with so much information they did not understand,” Ibrahim said.   

The final creation, available online at covid-story.github.io/, includes an easy-to-follow picture book, as well as several activities designed to help young students better understand how to stay safe as they continue school during a pandemic. 

Every aspect of the book is designed with children in mind. “Either children can read by themselves, or for those that are too young, their parents can read to them and help complete the activities section,” Ibrahim said. She knew that easy challenges would help solidify the information presented in the book and that children would be drawn to the games and want to participate. 

A fourth-year biomedical sciences student, Ibrahim has been passionate about writing since she was young. “Growing up, I used to love sunbathing outside and writing fictional stories,” she said. “After a decade, I wrote another fictional story [Kolo’s Return to School], but with factual information this time.”

Ibrahim was diligent with her research throughout the writing process. In addition to consulting sources like the World Health Organization, the Centre for Disease Control, and the Government of Canada, Ibrahim collaborated with Professor Heidi Engelhardt from the Department of Biology. 

“Dr. Engelhardt was very helpful and kind to provide me with many resources to guide my writing and publishing process,” Ibrahim said. “I also had many other professors share the book with their circle of friends and colleagues and support me, which I am very thankful for.” 

The journey to publishing was not an easy one. Though the writing process itself was straightforward, several complications forced Ibrahim to push back the release of her book. Luckily, she rose to the challenge. After the illustrator backed out, Ibrahim developed her artistic skills to create the images for the story. Once the book was completed, she taught herself to code, so she could publish Kolo’s Unique Return To School online, making the informative story available to a wide audience of educators, parents, and students.

Ultimately, Ibrahim’s hard work paid off. “It feels very rewarding and wonderful to see the results of my patience and staying up all those nights trying to edit, whether it was illustrations or the code,” she said. “This surprised me but also taught me how anything can be learned with determination and hard work.” 

The response to Kolo’s Unique Return to School has been overwhelmingly positive. Ibrahim’s initial goal was to help “even just a couple of individuals,” but the story has gained more attention than she predicted. “Many people have enjoyed it,” Ibrahim said, following which she emphasized the different formats in which her work could be shared. In addition to being available online free of charge, the story and activities can be downloaded as a PDF file or printed to be accessible to more audiences. 

As for what she would like readers to take away from the story? Firstly, Ibrahim hopes “everyone can learn the safety guidelines and preventative measures for COVID-19.” Additionally, she hopes readers “continue to wash their hands often and stay sanitized for their own personal health, even after the pandemic is over” due to the benefits these practices hold for protecting against many transmittable diseases. 

In terms of her own plans for the future, Ibrahim intends to keep writing. “I hope to actually have at least one book published in the future and I wouldn’t mind if it turned out to be a New York Times Best-Seller as well,” she said, laughing. 

More immediately, however, medical school is the top priority. Her plans for the next few years are to “either become a surgeon or conduct research related to human nutrition and metabolism and its correlation to disease and disabilities.”

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