Although they only met in person for the first time yesterday, the rapport between Conor Rogers, 11, and Clem McLernon, 16, was easy to see.
Over the past few months, the pair have spoken on the phone three times a week and bonded over books as Clem helped Conor improve his reading ability.
They have been taking part in The Smith Family's student2student program, an initiative that links students with a reading age below their actual age with older reading mentors.
Conor said he now found reading and spelling much easier, and felt more confident helping his friends when they stumbled over difficult words.
"It's helped me know more words and make conversations better," he said.
Once a sporadic reader, Conor now reads regularly in his own time and is a big fan of Roald Dahl.
Clem, who is in year 12 at The Illawarra Grammar School, said he was proud of Conor's progress.
"If I had a recording from the beginning to now, there's such a difference, and he's become a lot more confident," he said.
"Being able to witness the development of someone's reading, I've really enjoyed it."
A study by The Smith Family of 742 program participants found 91 per cent thought their reading had improved and 83 per cent read more than before they started the program.
The Smith Family's head of research and advocacy, Anne Hampshire, said the study showed the importance of addressing students' problems with literacy early, especially given the latest Programme for International Student Assessment showed a decline in Australian students' achievements in reading over the past decade.