Sascha Pakravan, 17, of Honolulu, Hawaii, a junior at Punahou School, has worked to improve access to early literacy resources in his state by starting a program that has created dozens of online children’s storytime videos, and recruited high school students across the state to mentor young readers. As an avid reader, Sascha said he was distressed to learn from a report that 1 in 6 Hawaii residents is functionally illiterate. “I realized that illiteracy is a rampant societal issue among people living on our islands,” he said. This is a critical challenge, he added, because “ultimately, literacy empowers people to learn, communicate, and have better futures.”
Determined to do something about this, Sascha contacted dozens of local organizations to volunteer as a literacy tutor, but was turned away either because of his age or because COVID-19 had forced many groups to curtail operations. So he took matters into his own hands. After a year of research, brainstorming and conversations with educators and parents, Sascha launched an initiative called “Words4” and began producing videos in which he and his younger sister read children’s books aloud while displaying the pages so young readers could follow along. On the videos, they also discuss the books and pose questions to encourage critical thinking. His 76 videos, available on his website, have been viewed more than 13,000 times since July. The website also lists hundreds of recommended, teacher-approved books. In addition, Sascha recruited 19 high schoolers to mentor elementary school children in need of reading assistance. “I consider it my civic duty to dedicate my time, effort, resources and willpower to helping Hawaii’s children,” he said.