The Columbus Metropolitan Library is offering assistance to thousands of area elementary school students who might need help passing the Ohio reading proficiency tests this spring.
The library system, in partnership with Columbus City Schools, has launched a Reading Buddies initiative, in which students are paired with a volunteer or staff member at each of the library's 21 branches.
The after-school program is free and available through the next round of testing, which will be done April 21 through May 16.
No registration is necessary. Each session lasts about an hour and is held twice a week, although hours vary at individual branches.
Students who didn't pass the proficiency test in October will be required to take it again this spring.
If they fail again, they will be forced to repeat the third grade under Ohio's so-called third-grade reading guarantee.
Of 4,098 Columbus City Schools' third-graders tested in October, 2,000 are in danger of not being promoted to the fourth grade, according to numbers supplied by the district.
"The Columbus Metropolitan Library absolutely thinks this is an urgent issue and we want to move forward with every resource we have to help these children be successful in the next round of testing," said Gregg Dodd, the library's marketing director.
"We really think this is a community issue."
Dodd said the library soft-launched the effort in January and found students on a waiting list for volunteers.
"I think we absolutely could use more volunteers," he said.
"We don't want any young mind, any student, to wait too long to read," Dodd said.
"I think there's a huge need out there within the entire central Ohio community for adults to step forward and be a reading buddy."
Columbus City Schools, which is seeking volunteers to help kids during school hours, is using the same material and format as the library system, said Jeff Warner, spokesman for the district.
Meanwhile, the district has launched a number of initiatives - Family Literacy Academy, Books on the Bus and an additional 90 hours of reading training for third-grade teachers - to help get students up to speed, Warner said.
"We're trying to hit it at school, after school, with parents - wherever we can," he said.
Kathy Shahbodaghi, public services director for the library system, said students enjoy reading with adults who are not their parents or teachers.
"The combination of the feelings they have for the adult and the book their reading together is like magic," Shahbodaghi said.
"A magical thing happens, because we know learning happens through relationships. And this is good. Reading is a skill. The more you read the better you get."