Ethiopian children coloring books

Schoolchildren in Ethiopia hold their coloring books created by Rock Ridge High School teachers and students.

Rock Ridge High School math teacher Ashley Storm has visited Ethiopia several times to work with young children. This year, she and other pre-calculus teachers came up with a way for their students to use their math skills to bring joy to those children’s lives: creating a coloring book.

“We noticed that when you would hand a five-year-old child a crayon, they would just look at it and be completely mystified and have no idea what to do with it,” Storm said. "We wanted to help these students have a way to develop their creative sides, to use their motor skills in a way that we take for granted here.”

The students used an online program called Desmos, which enables users to create artwork by entering trigonometric functions. The functions are then translated onto a Cartesian coordinate plane and combine to form pictures. Throughout the 2018-2019 school year, the students would learn new mathematical concepts and demonstrate what they learned by creating drawings on the program, according to Loudoun County Public Schools officials.

The students’ illustrations ranged from simple objects, like a sailboat, to more complex subjects, like Minnie Mouse.

Once all of the pages were finished, the math teachers reached out to the school’s English and math departments and the Mu Alpha Theta honor society to print the coloring books, which were then bound by librarian Alexis Groah. They relied on other members of the Rock Ridge community to contribute crayons.

“We did a crayon fundraiser so that each kid would get a coloring book and a pack of crayons,” Math Chair Jacquelin O’Brien said.

In late June, Storm visited Ethiopia with Three Roots International, a Fairfax-based nonprofit that provides health and educational support to the country. Storm recalled the joy and surprise the local children showed when receiving their gifts — a reminder that what some find commonplace, others might consider a luxury.

“Yes, these are just coloring books, and yes, this project might be small-scale … but just because something starts small or is small, it’s not a reason to not start it,” Storm said. “We really believe in the work that we did, and we’re really proud of our students.”

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