WILMINGTON, N.C. - In an effort to promote reading in local schools, the UNC Wilmington athletics department is partnering with Rachel Freeman School of Engineering and Progress Energy in the debut of the Seahawk Book Club.

The Seahawk Book Club's goal is to inspire reading and education among Wilmington's youth. UNCW's student-athletes will visit the school each month in the pilot project to read to fifth grade students and lead a book discussion. The designated books include "Because of Winn Dixie," "Frindle," and "Dear Mr. Henshaw."

"We're delighted to debut this new project because reading is so important," said Kelly Mehrtens, UNCW's athletic director. "It's an exciting way to partner with our local schools. Reading is the foundation for learning, so we want to encourage all students - young and old alike - to explore new worlds through books."

Three groups of Seahawk student-athletes will visit the school. Each group will be assigned to read one of the books and read that book to a different class each month. The readings will be held on February 22, March 22 and April 26 from 1:20-2:20 p.m.

The goal of the program is to expand the Seahawk Book Club to include other schools next year.

"We're very excited about this project and developing our relationship with UNCW Athletics," said Adrian Pearson, interim principal at Rachel Freeman. "The student-athletes are certainly role models for our students because they show what can be achieved by doing well in school. We appreciate the dedication of the student-athletes and their time with this unique program."

Progress Energy is the primary sponsor with the project and Bob McCall, the company's vice-president for the eastern region, says it's a "win-win" for everyone involved.

"We're very proud and honored to partner with UNCW and Rachel Freeman," said McCall. "We're certainly proud of the student-athletes who are reaching out to the community to teach and help these young people and help improve their lives."