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INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Central Indiana third-graders — about 6,000 of them — have taken the challenge to read a book for 30 minutes a day starting January 2018.

WISH-TV’s “I Love to Read” challenge and the NCAA Team Works’ “Readers Become Leaders” initiative have combined their efforts to help students become more proficient readers during a crucial year of school.

“Children learn to read between the first and the third grade; then it flips when they go into the fourth grade — they actually read to learn,” said Victor Hill, associate director of NCAA Team Work. “We’re trying to help get the word out and get the kids excited about reading.”

Roughly 1,000 third-grade students filled Hinkle Fieldhouse Friday for a pep rally for Warren Township students. The third-graders were greeted with high-fives from student-athletes, met the Butler mascot and enjoyed a program featuring Butler cheerleaders and dance team members, district officials and collegiate leaders. Lakeside Elementary teacher Lori Wiegand said the fact the rally was held on a college campus is important for her students.

“What we’re trying to do for our children is to prepare them for further education, and I think having an event like this on a college campus really helps them to see what could be their future,” Wiegand said.

Butler basketball player Campbell Donovan was among four college student-athletes who spoke at the rally and said he reads constantly as a student.

“It’s pretty special that my sport allows me to use all my reading I did as a kid,” Donovan said. “I hope [the students] take away to actually start reading. It’s not easy to pass up a TV show as a young kid to read, and they seem to love it.”

Scholastic, which also supports the program, brought the Clifford the Red Dog mascot to the pep rally to the delight of students. All third-graders in the program will also receive a free new book to jump start their challenge.

Dajia Springfield, 9, already knows the benefits of reading and says she is excited to participate in the challenge.

“It helps you with your knowledge, it helps you with your vocabulary,” she said.

Parents and guardians are also encouraged to help students accomplish the challenge by making sure their kids are reading at home.

“Read to them, let them read to you, let them read to the dog or the cat, whoever it is, but make sure they read at least 30 minutes a day,” said Hill.

The “I Love to Read” challenge is open to students in 34 counties across Indiana. To sign up your classroom, click here. Classes will compete in a bracket challenge to see which report the most dedicated readers, with prizes to be awarded to the winning groups.