Norwalk students lead virtual lessons on coronavirus
NORWALK — Two Norwalk students have partnered with their uncle, a public health professor, to spread information about the coronavirus to their peers.
Alexa Lacomis, a Nathan Hale Middle School sixth-grader, and her sister Audra, a Wolfpit Elementary fourth-grader, have taken on additional work in the last two weeks — since schools were closed amid the coronavirus outbreak — on top of the distance-learning assigned by their teachers.
Alongside their uncle, Anthony Santella, a public health professor at Hofstra University, they created a free coronavirus youth webinar, which they present multiple times a week.
The webinar is meant to provide age-appropriate information to kids on what is an evolving and anxiety-inducing situation.
“It originally started because I wanted to make sure the kids in my family had age-appropriate information about what was happening,” said Santella, who specializes in infectious disease prevention and control.
Roughly two weeks ago, as the virus was poised to explode in Connecticut, Santella convened a meeting comprised of his nieces, his friends and their children, to discuss the situation. It occurred to Santella then that the children in the room had valid questions that needed answers.
“We wondered why school is closing if everyone’s fine. If our pets could get the coronavirus,” Alexa Lacomis said.
“Another question we had was why were stores still open if we had to be staying home,” Audra Lacomis added.
The meeting turned into a PowerPoint, created by Alexa and Audra, which evolved into a webinar that seeks to answer some of these questions, as well as others.
“Some of the most important things for kids to know are to wash your hands multiple times a day, and to use soap more than hand sanitizer, because soap kills more germs,” Alexa Lacomis said.
The webinar also explains what a virus is and how it operates; the origins of coronavirus and its spread; treatments and tips to stay healthy; and advice on how to stay connected with family, friends and teachers despite physical distancing.
In addition to using applications like Google Classroom to attend school from home, the Lacomis sisters said they use FaceTime to connect with friends after school.
Beginning the week of March 30, Santella said they will offer the webinar twice weekly for middle and elementary school kids and twice weekly for high school students. The trio plans to continue offering the webinar for a two-month period, through mid-May.
By request, Santella and the Lacomis’ are also offering the webinar to private groups, including an elementary school in Kansas and a group of mentors and mentees from Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Based on feedback from the roughly 1,000 people who have signed up for the webinar so far, they are continuing to update the presentation. Alexa and Audra Lacomis are including an experiment that shows the effect of soap on the virus. And a segment on the anxiety that the pandemic can cause is also in the works.
“It’s getting a lot of traction because there is not a lot of content for kids,” Santella said. “Kids are at home, parents are watching the news, the TV is on, so they’re hearing all these things, like pandemic and quarantine and public health. But those are not things a regular elementary school science lessons covers.”
A schedule of meetings and links to register are available at anthonyjsantella.com.
firstname.lastname@example.org; @justinjpapp1; 203-842-2586
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Alexa Lacomis’ name was misspelled.