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Willmar students can earn bikes through Masonic reading program

Erica Dischino / Tribune Dave Stuhr, left, and Brad Nichols wheel a bicycle out of the fifth-grade collaborative space Monday at Lakeland Elementary School in Willmar after they told students about the Mason Lodge Bikes for Books program. 1 / 4
Erica Dischino / Tribune Fifth-grade student Jorge Alberto, 11, covers his smile Monday at Lakeland Elementary School in Willmar after finding out that he could receive a free bicycle if he reads 25 books in 25 weeks during the Bikes for Books program. 2 / 4
Erica Dischino / Tribune Fifth-grade students wait Monday at Lakeland Elementary School in Willmar to find out about the Bikes for books program. 3 / 4
Erica Dischino / Tribune Brad Nichols, left, and Dave Stuhr of the Mason Lodge Bikes for Books program explain Monday how Lakeland Elementary School students in Willmar can receive a free bike through a reading program. 4 / 4

WILLMAR — Reading 25 books in 25 weeks might sound like a tall order for a fifth-grader, but the kids at Lakeland Elementary School in Willmar now have a real incentive.

Thanks to the Mason Lodge Bikes for Books program, each Lakeland fifth-grader who completes the reading challenge will earn a new bicycle plus a helmet and lock next spring.

Representatives of Willmar's Sharon Lodge of the Masons told the fifth-graders about the program Monday morning.

The response was muted at first, but the excitement built as they learned more.

Mason Brad Nichols told the students that the Masons wanted the kids to have fun reading and to use the challenge to prepare for middle school. "There is a lot of reading coming your way after this year," he said.

"It's a really good challenge for people your age," Nichols said. "I hope all of you accept the challenge and that you succeed."

Before meeting with the kids, Nichols said the school and the fifth-grade teachers will play a big part in the Bikes for Books challenge, because they will approve the books and keep the kids on track.

Students asked what type of books they would have to read. "Let's call it a fifth-grade book," Nichols said. The teachers have a list of books and will have flexibility in choosing books to challenge but not overwhelm students.

"Your teachers have been working with you on finding just-right books for you, and those just-right books will work for this," Principal Gretchen Baumgarn told the students.

While Bikes for Books is a national program, this is the first time the Sharon Lodge has participated. They are starting with one school, to see how much community support they receive, Nichols said. If it goes well, they hope to expand to the district's other two elementary schools.

Target is a partner in the program and will offer bikes to the program at a discount, he said.

The Masonic Lodge is working to raise $5,300 from the community to help with the effort. The lodge offers a 100 percent match for each tax-deductible donation. Donations may be sent to Ashlar Foundation, 328 Fifth St. S.W., Willmar. The foundation focuses on science, education and charity.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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