GREENFIELD — She spoke with a sparkle of excitement in her eyes.

It was a far cry from how Greenfield-Central student Taryn Smith felt at the beginning of the school year, when she was placed in the ReadUP program to improve her literacy skills.

“Neither of my brothers were in it. My parents are good readers. I thought I shouldn’t be in it,” said the J.B. Stephens Elementary School third-grader.

“But now I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m glad I was in it,’ because I just skyrocketed.”

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Skyrocket. Flourish. Bloom.

Any number of words could describe the progress of 60 third-grade students who graduated this week from the United Way program, which partners volunteer tutors with students who struggle with reading.

Tutors and teachers say they’ve seen significant growth in the children over the past nine months.

And test scores prove it.

Ninety-seven percent of Greenfield ReadUP students at J.B. Stephens, Harris and Weston elementary schools passed the IREAD-3 test this year. The graduation ceremony Wednesday at J.B. Stephens was particularly special because all 20 students passed the test.

“We know a very big part of that success is the ReadUP program,” said Ann Vail, Greenfield-Central assistant superintendent.

The United Way of Central Indiana runs the program. This year, 140 local tutors came in for an hour every week to read books with children, said Paula Jarrett, Hancock County area director for the United Way.

There are 20 students in the program at each of the three Greenfield-Central elementary schools, and each student reads three days a week with three or more tutors. The program builds relationships between the volunteers and the youngsters, who organizers say gain confidence through the one-on-one attention.

Lynde Smith was so pleased with the program and her daughter Taryn’s improvement that she was inspired to volunteer this year.

“When she took the IREAD-3, I was like, ‘How was it?’ She said, ‘Mom, it was easy,’” Lynde said. “I thought, ‘Oh, it was all worth it.’”

The program is in 31 schools across six counties in central Indiana, said Shannon Jenkins, ReadUP manager. More than 500 students are involved, and more than 900 tutors volunteered some 12,000 hours.

Longtime volunteer Pearlann Haines said the program is invaluable.

“I think it’s outstanding,” Haines said. “Helping a child learn to read helps set up success in his life.”

Haines said that during the first three years of schoolchildren learn to read. By Grade 3 and beyond, they “read to learn,” meaning students have to have solid reading skills and comprehension to understand the subjects.

That clicked this year for twins Jadyn and Kayde Pope, J.B. Stephens third-graders who realized even subjects like math require reading comprehension.

“Without reading, you can’t do really anything else,” Kayde said. “You can’t really read books and learn more.”

Third-grader Jay McIntyre publicly thanked the volunteers this week during the graduation ceremony by reading from a paper he’d written about the program.

“I will never forget about you guys who wanted to help kids have a great future,” he said.

Each student walked away from the graduation ceremony with a certificate, a gift bag of books and words of encouragement from their tutors.

“I really love giving back because they’re our future,” volunteer Mark Chatterson said. “We have to give them every opportunity to succeed.”