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A novel field trip helps kids buy books

If they own them ... they will read

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To get kids motivated about reading, Burton Freeman starts with an activity sure to capture their attention: a shopping spree.

This isn't a casual trip to the mall. Instead, several times each year, a swarm of children accompany the retired attorney to a bookstore, where they get busy with their end of the deal: each collecting $50 worth of books. Mr. Freeman pays the bill.

"A bookstore can be a very exciting place for kids," he says as he trolls bookshelves with the children, the participants in the East Harlem Tutorial Program.

After he retired in 1998, he and his wife, Sandra, formed the Freeman-Harrison Family Foundation and approached the program with an eye to participating in its computer-literacy efforts.

But he was caught off guard when he visited the group and, as an icebreaker, asked kids about their favorite book. "I got these blank stares," he recalls. "I began to realize that these kids didn't have books at home." Many had never been to a bookstore.

He gave a grant to the program, stipulating that $6,000 of it be used to take participants to a bookstore where each would be given a $50 credit and guidance in buying books.

The Freeman-Harrison foundation has since adopted five East Harlem public elementary schools, intent on turning students into lifelong readers.

"Literacy, conventional literacy, is the absolute foundation for anything," he says.

So far, more than 600 third-graders from East Harlem and almost 200 young people from the East Harlem Tutorial Program have bought books. And Freeman hasn't missed a trip. "I take a very hands-on attitude," he says, smiling.

Toward that end, he worked with students, teachers, and principals to develop classroom activities around the experience.

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