Once Upon a Time ASU instills a love for reading in children

January 28, 2021

Instilling a love for reading and creativity in children is crucial for kids’ development and well-being, and a new student led organization at ASU, Once Upon a Time, holds this as their central mission. 

Once Upon a Time aims to establish a nurturing environment for children to learn about the importance and excitement of reading. The group works alongside children's institutions to provide interactive reading videos with hands-on activities. 

Once Upon a Time was founded this fall by three co-presidents (and close friends): Nazya Patwoary, Sabrina Taher and Sahara Rahman, who worked hard on the concept all summer. 

Young child in ASU gear and sparky put their "forks up."

Sparky bonds with a young ASU fan by teaching him the ASU hand signal: "Forks Up!"

The idea began because the three friends love books and children. Patwoary, a psychology major, came to her two friends with the idea, and the rest is history. 

“[What I enjoy is] the image of watching a child's face light up as they're taken into the world of fantasy and fiction, as they learn of mysteries and myths and adventures and what it means to be brave. To accept yourself for who you are. There are so many different morals taught through children's tales, and seeing them smile is the light at the end of my tunnel for me,” Patwoary said.

Rahman, a junior majoring in biological science, said that the group was planning on going into the community to read to children in-person in schools and other public settings, but because of COVID-19, they’ve had to adjust. 

“Due to COVID-19, we have gone completely virtual. Safety comes before anything else. Our reading program will be virtual, and all our meetings have been being held through Zoom. Since many schools are utilizing platforms like Canvas and Google Classroom, we can film these interactive reading videos from home and have the schools embed them for students to access,” Rahman said.

Once Upon a Time is based on the Downtown campus, but any student from any ASU campus can join. Students can volunteer or get involved by joining them on SunDevilSync

Patwaoary said that part of their motivation was educational equity: Too often children from low-income neighborhoods are unable to afford books. She said that because of this, they often aren’t able to experience the joys of reading, and that sad fact was one of the major reasons they began this project. 

“Not enough reading during your childhood can lead to difficulties in learning and language abilities. It is important to combat this issue as much as possible. My colleagues and I have taken it upon ourselves to ensure as many kids are able to improve their vocabulary and learning skills as much as possible, all while experiencing the joy of reading,” Patwaoary said.

Once Upon a Time is currently working on launching their interactive reading program where college students can film themselves reading books interactively to be published on their website. This would allow for schools that they are working with to embed more videos onto their school platforms for students to access.

Taher, a third-year student majoring in psychology and minoring in global health, said no students should be left behind when it comes to literacy opportunities.

“This work is especially important because studies have shown that reading helps with language and early learning skills, and those who don’t have access to books are set behind their peers and face hindered educational opportunities,” Taher said.

Taher said that that is the biggest reason why the group prioritizes working with Title I schools, which serve more low-income students. They currently serve schools in the Roosevelt Elementary School District as well as Rover Elementary School, all of which have experienced significant periods of online learning.

“Our virtual reading program was created to help children who are stuck at home have access to book readings and activities that they are able to do in the comfort of their home,” Taher said.

If you’d like to support Once Upon a Time’s mission but aren’t able to volunteer, they just launched a book drive called Project Storybook and are seeking monetary donations via their GoFundMe campaign

With these funds, the friends plan on purchasing books from Changing Hands Bookstore and distributing them to local Title I schools. They would also like to use these funds to create Free Little Libraries in local communities with Southwest Human Development. 

If students or the general public would like to donate physical books instead of a monetary donation, you can contact Once Upon a Time at asuonceuponatime@gmail.com and they can distribute them along with the books they plan on purchasing.

Once Upon a Time hopes to gradually increase the number of videos they create for a wider selection of genres and levels of books that children can access. They also would like for not just children locally to access these videos, but to anyone with an internet connection to be able to access these videos. Once Upon a Time is also currently in the works collaborating with A Buncha Book Artists, another ASU organization, to create a possible story writing contest.

Rahman says that the effects of the current pandemic have made their endeavor difficult, but they’ve persevered. 

“Neither of us have held a leadership position before, let alone started an organization. And COVID-19 completely switched up our original plans,” said Rahman. “However, I think we've come really far since we first started curating the club. … Being virtual is difficult, but I think we are doing a good job not letting that get in the way. We have six great teams who are ready to start filming! We are very excited for what's to come.”