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UR Professor Creates Character to Help Families Live with COVID-19

Haley Paciocco, from Echo Lake Elementary School in Glen Allen, displays her prize-winning entry. Haley wrote a poem and drew a picture about visiting the zoo post-pandemic.

Four children in Virginia and California have received gift certificates to purchase books for their classrooms or learning community stemming from their winning submissions in a contest focused on healthy COVID-related habits.

The students won the Kalo the Hero contest. University of Richmond psychology professor Kelly Lambert, a behavioral neuroscientist, created Kalo, a cartoon raccoon, as an inspiration to encourage healthy behaviors in kids.

“I got to thinking about how successful media campaigns can be used to modify behavior, and one of the most famous examples is the humanized forest animal, Smokey Bear,” Lambert said. “If this character could inspire fire safety, could there be a similar hero to keep schoolkids safe from COVID-19?”

Collaborating with research colleagues and an illustrator, Kalo, whose superpower is science, was born. Kalo has been featured in Scientific American, and Lambert has been promoting Kalo in school systems. The Kalo team launched a nationwide contest encouraging children to submit a poem, picture, or both related to the Kalo initiative, specially focusing on post-pandemic plans. 

“Kalo encourages the behaviors we should all follow — wearing masks, physical distancing, and washing our hands frequently, but in an approachable and fun way to resonate with kids,” Lambert said. “The contest focused on post-pandemic plans because we know it’s good for our brains to anticipate something positive.” 

The contest recently wrapped, and Lambert, along with fellow scientist Temple Grandin, a prominent author and speaker on both autism and animal behavior and professor of animal science at Colorado State University, co-announced the winners in a YouTube video announcement. Lambert hopes to continue the Kalo initiative after the COVID crisis to promote science education and evidence-based healthy behaviors in children.

“Where better to seek inspiration than with children?” said Lambert. “These students can teach us all something about celebrating science and looking to the future.”

You can learn more about Kalo on and this Facebook page.

Sunni Brown is an award-winning communications professional who is passionate about motherhood and all things food. She lives in Henrico with her husband, Travis, and their four children. Sunni is the director of media and public relations at the University of Richmond. Over the years, she has contributed multiple Real Parent articles.

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