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How do you get reluctant 8-year-olds interested in reading?

Try paying them.

This summer, some pupils at Holmes Elementary School in the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District will be offered an incentive of $2 for every book they read -- with a limit of $40 -- in a Town of Tonawanda Youth Board "Earning by Learning" program. If a youngster reads 30 books or more, the Youth Bureau will throw in a free pair of sneakers.

The $2-per-book incentive is an effort to spark interest in reading among troubled youngsters or those labeled at risk, according to Geoffrey Dell, Youth Board chairman.

Dell said the idea originated in Georgia in 1990, sponsored by now-House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Proceeds from Gingrich's speaking engagements funded the program, Dell said.

The initial program would involve about 20 children who will be entering third grade at Holmes in the fall. "The kids won't get credit for the books until they discuss it with an adult volunteer," Dell added.

He figures the Youth Board will need about $2,000 for the program, but all the money will be raised through outside sources.

"One of the main facets is we're raising money completely from the private sector," Dell said, noting that the Youth Bureau already has raised about $500.

The board pitched the idea to Holmes Principal Mark Kaiser, who likes the program but questions the money incentive, saying third-graders would appreciate non-monetary rewards. Those involved are happy about the pilot program. The school will keep an eye on the participants once they return from summer vacation.

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