At least 600 community volunteers are being sought this week by the AR Kids Read organization, a collaborative group that is combating low reading skills among elementary students in the three Pulaski County school districts.

Almost 40 percent of fourth-grade students in the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County districts read below grade level, threatening their lifelong success. AR Kids Read says the solution includes volunteers reading with students one hour a week for one semester (12 weeks).

"The need for 600 volunteers reflects the number of second- and third-grade children identified as scoring below proficient on the state benchmark exam, " said Judy Knod, of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. "Our goal is to have every third-grader reading at grade level before they move to fourth grade. We can do this with one hour a week from each of the 600 volunteers."

AR Kids Read is focusing on second-grade and third-grade students because national studies show that third-grade reading proficiency is essential to academic success in high school and beyond. Studies also show that 74 percent of children who are not reading at grade level in third grade will never catch up to graduate with their class.

Virgil Miller, an executive of Metropolitan National Bank, who has been a volunteer reading tutor for more than 25 years, said that the ability to read is fundamental to breaking the cycle of poverty and other social ills. "As a volunteer tutor you are doing more than reading with that child. Tutors give young children new ways to look at the world, and help to create a desire for success. These gifts benefit the child for a lifetime, and can benefit our entire community for generations."

Representing the many churches that have partnered with the initiative, Pastor. Gary Hollingsworth of Immanuel Baptist Church of Little Rock said, "Responding to the invitation to be an AR Kids Read tutor is part of the calling of the Christian community to serve those in need of support. As far back as the 1890’s when the original Sunday school classes were formed in England to help educate children on the streets, the church has recognized the value of education and the need to help children learn. It is encouraging to see that almost half of the organizations that are AR Kids Read partners are from the faith community."

Volunteers interested in participating can sign up at Training and orientation for tutors requires approximately one hour and will take place September 3 thru October 1. Tutors will be in schools by October 1st, and they may read with a single student or with a small group of youngsters.