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Since the middle of last year, University of Otago students have been going to Carisbrook School, in Caversham, to encourage pupils in years 1 to 3 to read via Reading Oasis.
The programme is funded by volunteer organisation United Way, and is the only one in the South Island.
Third-year psychology and commerce student Grace Dalton (20) said the work tied in with what she was learning in developmental psychology and she "really loved" it so far.
Sometimes the students read aloud to the pupils; other times the pupils bring their favourite books to read to them.
Principal Ben Sincock said some of the pupils did not have anyone with the time or energy to read to them, and while it was "too early to gauge" the academic success of the programme, it definitely improved pupils' confidence. Children were now "running" to their reading classes, he said.
When he heard about Reading Oasis he travelled to the North Island to see it in action because it sounded too good to be true.
The programme had already provided at least $2000 worth of books as well as furnishings and other resources needed to get started, Mr Sincock said.
He said eight pupils were involved in the three sessions held twice a week.
UniCrew volunteer co-ordinator Kasey Miles said about 10 students had signed up to the programme. When it began last year, the volunteers were mainly trainee teachers, but this year it had attracted others, including accounting and microbiology students.
Pyschology master's student, Wei Lao said she enjoyed volunteering at the school. "I know they need help, they need someone to read with them."