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LaCrosse Police officier Avrie Shott reads to Hamilton students at their Reading Cafe.Dick Riniker photo DICK RINIKER

Lunch is served with a celebrity reader and favorite book at The Reading Cafe.

Hamilton Elementary School students are welcomed to the make-shift restaurant by soft instrumental music and red-and-white checkered tablecloths decorated with floral arrangements and faux candles that gently flicker. They dine while listening to stories read by writers, firefighters, doctors, police officers, school administrators, community leaders and other local professionals.

"It's the only fancy place here," 6-year-old Aurelius Galaviz said. "I'd like it if it could happen all the time."

The Reading Cafe started this school year as a way to give kids the chance to experience books and allow community members to share stories with them, said Karen Condit, Title I reading teacher. Special books, including some on manners, and the decor were funded through a $492 La Crosse Public Education Foundation grant awarded to Condit.

"Kids are always asking, ‘Is it my turn, is it my turn to come,'" Condit said. "Our big goal is to get them interested."

During a recent Reading Cafe, school resource officer Avrie Schott of the La Crosse Police Department read to the students. She asked about their favorite football teams, helped peel bananas and fielded questions about her job.

"I really like coming," said Jaylon Patterson, 7. "I like that you get to listen to stories."

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