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Last year, more than 700 students dropped out of Buffalo schools.

For all, there are other chances -- adult education classes or a return to school.

And for those who are unable to read, or read poorly, there is a new program in which they not only learn, but earn $2 an hour.

The Buffalo Urban League, with a grant from the state Labor Department, has launched a program at 730 Fillmore Ave. to teach young people ages 16 to 21 how to read well enough to prepare for a job or make a job application.

Eula Bailey, director of the Principle of Alphabet Literacy System (PALs) program, said participants acquire basic reading ability in 100 hours.

"Each class will hold eight," Ms. Bailey said. "They can come in two hours a day, four days a week. They will be paid $2 an hour, plus tokens for transportation."

The minimum IQ is 75.

The program handles three groups a day, four days a week, Monday through Thursday. It can handle 24 young adults each semester. The program is dormant during the summer.

Instructor Rita Davis tests students for find out where they can start. A computerized program developed through IBM is used to teach what was not learned in school. The computer speaks and shows pictures.

For some, the program can start with the "d" sound, as in the dog that appears on a computer screen, Ms. Bailey said. "O" is represented by an orange and "g" by a goat, with the curve of the goat's nose and whisker forming the letter.

If a student becomes stymied by a letter, he can call up a face on the computer to speak the letter to him, so he learns what a mouth looks like when forming the sound correctly.

"They will work at their own pace until they finish," Ms. Bailey said.

Students also learn to type at the rate of 15 to 20 words a minute.

Ms. Bailey said that after the 100 hours, a student should be able to write a composition in simple sentences. At that point, another door opens to a basic skills program for academic competency from the seventh to the 12th grades. This program, too, is accepting applicants.

One of the first entrants, Mike, 16, went to school as far as the ninth grade.

Mechanically adept, he is proud that he built a motor. Now he is taking the basic literacy course to learn to read better and plans to complete a general equivalency program.

"I want to drive a rig cross-country," said Mike, who said he will stay with the PALs course. "But before that, I might want to go into the service."

Leroy Coles, president of the Buffalo Urban League, said it may take time until the community learns about the program.

"It will take a little while for folks to get on to it," Coles said. "We've got to go out and beat the bushes. Our people have gone around to taverns and places these people meet and tried to get them to come out."

The program expects to enroll some Polish immigrants who want to learn English.

The state Department of Labor donated space and about $70,000 in initial funding. IBM provided equipment.

If most students stay with the program, the cost of teaching them to read and getting them at least started on the rest of their schoolwork will cost less than $1,000 each.

And, for those who complete the program, there are job-training courses that can give them skills to earn a real paycheck -- not just $2 an hour.

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