Teenagers Sara Athib and Lotty Abasaba smiled as they greeted two young readers on April 17 at the Columbus Metropolitan Library's Reynoldsburg branch, guiding them to the book cart to choose reading material, then to separate tables for one-on-one reading practice.

Michael Paul Watts, 5, and his sister, Zoe, 8, were at the library for the biweekly Reading Buddies Program for students in kindergarten through third grade.

Sara, a sophomore at Pickerington High School North, listened while Michael read from his book, pointing out words and talking to him about the book. This is her third year volunteering for the program.

"I really like kids and seeing them grow when it comes to reading," she said, "and it's fun to interact with them."

The Columbus Metropolitan Library offers Reading Buddies at all of its branches, said Kristin Anderson, manager of youth services at the Reynoldsburg branch, where the program is offered from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. every Monday and Wednesday during the school year. During the summer, the program is offered at 11 a.m. three times a week.

"We get the kids signed in and pick out books for their reading level, then they get 15 minutes of reading practice with a volunteer," Anderson said. "The program began three years ago, to help kids get ready for Ohio's Third Grade Reading Guarantee."

Ohio's Third Grade Reading Guarantee identifies students from kindergarten through third grade who are falling behind in reading.

Schools are required to provide help and support to get them get back on track for reading success and able to pass state reading tests by the end of third grade.

Students who cannot pass the tests by that time could be retained in third grade until they achieve a passing reading grade.

Anderson said eight adults and nine teenagers volunteer regularly during the school year as reading buddies in Reynoldsburg.

She said the younger students look up to and connect well with the teens and adults.

"The teens can be excellent role models," she said. "They make connections with the young students and meet needs well beyond the mechanics of reading. The young kids create warm relationships with the teens and adults."

She said 57 teens signed up as "VolunTeens" for the Summer Reading Club last summer as reading buddies and mentors.

Lotty, a sophomore at Patriot Preparatory Academy in Columbus, said she loves to read and hopes the kids she works with learn that reading is fun.

"I like reading to kids and interacting with them," she said. "I also love books, so I want them to learn to love books, too."

Andrew Pocta, a junior at Oakstone Academy, a private school near Westerville, has been volunteering as a reading buddy for five years, since he was 12.

"I love spending time with the children and knowing that I can have an impact on helping them become better readers," he said.

As Zoe finished reading, she ran over to her mom, Nicole Watts, from Columbus.

Watts said the program at Reynoldsburg has been a valuable one for Michael and Zoe.

"It gives them more people to take interest in their lives and their learning," she said. "They both really love it."

The Reynoldsburg branch also offers a Homework Help Center, for students in kindergarten through grade 12 from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 3 to 6 p.m. on Friday.

"Library staff and volunteers help kids with pretty much whatever they need," Anderson said. "The idea is to get their homework done for the next day."

Information about the library programs is available online at columbuslibrary.org/locations/Reynoldsburg.