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Pupils at School 74 on Donaldson Road will sign their first contracts Thursday, and they'll be potentially more valuable than any recording or athletic contracts.

They will agree to:

Obey instructors.

Shun drugs.

Participate in the Bob Lanier Sports-Culture program.

In return, the 170 students will spend two afternoons a week at the school, and each afternoon will be divided -- down to the minute -- between sports or cultural activities and schoolwork.

The program, to open Monday, is designed to keep girls and boys so busy and interested in school-based activities that they won't have time or the inclination for the streets.

State Assembly Deputy Speaker Arthur O. Eve, D-Buffalo, spoke to more than 100 groups in lining up support. The program will run from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Eve sold the program to the Board of Education, arranged for administrators to see a similar program in Harlem, and pledged money help from the $10 million Liberty Partnership he sponsored in the State Legislature.

"Our children now have too much free time," said Principal Joyce Harrington. "They are not really learning to be sociable and to accept winning and losing."

The School 74 pupils will form the nucleus, but William D. Bennett, acting executive director, expects to open the doors to up to 130 more pupils from nearby schools.

"There are a lot of things in society that put youths at risk," said Bennett. "I see this program trying to help youths reach their full potential."

The neighborhood where the school is located, despite many nice-looking homes, has substantial poverty. Eighty percent of School 74 pupils eat free lunches at school because their parents, although many work, have low incomes.

Mrs. Harrington said instructors will know from classroom teachers where a child needs help and will provide it.

One of the plusses -- not available in the regular school day -- is that every child will have a free physical examination. The program interacts with social agencies so that a child or parent who has a problem can get help.

Bennett emphasized that athletics will involve more than sharpening up individual skills.

"Sports is going to be directed toward self-discipline, developing sportsmanship and working with a team," he said.

School 74 has no pool so many children want to learn to swim. Bennett plans to make an arrangement with a YMCA.

"We welcome anyone who wants to get involved," said Bennett. "We're going to recruit on an ongoing basis and also have periodic evaluations in case people don't work out."

Monday and Wednesday are set aside for grades two, three and four, and Tuesday and Thursday for grades five through eight. Instructors will earn $20 an afternoon.

"Fridays, we will train the staff," said Bennett. "We will brainstorm: What did we do wrong? What will we do better in the coming week? There will be a lot of instruction in how you step on a kids' shoes without messing up his shine."

Principal of Buffalo Vocational Technical Center, Bennett is serving as acting coordinator until a full-time coordinator is recruited.

The program is named after former Bennett High School basketball star Bob Lanier, who went on to star at St. Bonaventure and with the Detroit Pistons. The program is modelled after the Jackie Robinson after-school program in Harlem, which is named after the Brooklyn Dodger baseball player who was the first black man to play major league baseball. The Buffalo version has a strong anti-drug aim and the ambition to give children -- no matter how difficult their family circumstances are -- a chance to make good lives and to share society's rewards.

Lanier, who lent his name to the program, will visit the school in March.

"We've got to reach out to kids and get them off crack," said Eve, whose plans call for expanding to other elementary schools and to high schools.

"I hope we'll be able to open it to all of the schools in Buffalo in coming years," said Associate Superintendent Joseph T. Murray, instructional services.

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