Reading on Wheels began during the 1997-1998 school year to provide educational support and mentorship to the "high-risk" elementary school students in Monticello, Arkansas. These high-risk students, identified by school guidance counselors, are from economically depressed, high crime areas of the city. About 60 percent of the students are black and 40 percent are white or Hispanic. Students in the "Teachers of Tomorrow" club at Monticello High School, some former high-risk students themselves, serve as volunteer tutors. The program was designed not only to increase the children's reading skills, but also to improve race and ethnic relations.
Reading on Wheels began with six tutors, two teachers and 80 students. The local school district provided a small, 22-passenger bus to transfer tutors to the service sites. The program's target areas are housing developments and trailer parks in high-poverty locations. Tutoring sessions are held on the bus Tuesday evenings, for approximately 90 minutes. Each tutor is responsible for a group of about six students. Students are encouraged to infer and predict outcomes, and to use context clues to engage in purposeful conversation about the reading materials. Texts and other materials used to tutor the students include characters of various ethnic and racial backgrounds. Tutors focus not only on improving their students' reading abilities, but also fostering conflict resolution skills to help students better manage issues of diversity and multiculturalism.
The Teachers of Tomorrow Club won the Arkansas Education Association's "Apple Award" for the Reading on Wheels project. The award is given to future-teacher clubs that demonstrate outstanding service to their community. Tutors involved in the program contribute to their community while acquiring the skills they will need to teach in racially and ethnically diverse schools.