About 230 high school students helped kick off a United Way literacy campaign Wednesday by reading to elementary school students in five Quad-City school districts.

During the two-month Student Challenge, schools will compete to raise money for Imagination Library, a program that provides one free book per month to participating children ages 5 and younger.

At Hoover Elementary School in Bettendorf, principal Jeff Johannsen said the students look forward to the high school students coming to read to them because they look up to the older students.

Sam Ruchotzke, a senior at Bettendorf High School, said this was his third year of participating in the program. He said he participates because he thinks it’s important for kids to develop a love of reading.

“I think it’s a good idea to get a good base for their education,” he said.

Sitting in front of Jennifer Buckles’ second-grade class, Sam read “The Story of Ferdinand,” the story of a bull who preferred to sit under a tree and smell the flowers rather than take part in the bull fights in Madrid.

After he finished reading, Sam discussed with the students the message of the book that it is OK to be different.

Bettendorf High School senior Austin Lower read “Little Pink Pup” to Ann Geneva’s kindergarten class, and afterward the students talked about their own pets.

Austin said he had some experience reading to younger children from reading to his sister.

“I think it’s important for kids to start reading at a young age,” he said.

Students in each class also did a craft related to the books.

Scott Crane, president of United Way of the Quad-Cities Area, said the participating students embody the mission of the organization.

“It is wonderful to see older students being role models to younger ones and to encourage them to love reading,” Crane said in a news release.