Reposted from the Decatur Daily News – Erica Smith

Aug. 25—Carson Gregg, a 6-year-old first grader, carefully scanned the books available in West Morgan Elementary School’s new book vending machine before deciding on a “Pete the Cat” book, sliding in his token, and entering the corresponding number to get his new book.

The school unveiled the book vending machine in a hallway near the front office on Thursday morning. Students can put a special token into the vending machine full of books and punch in the number that corresponds with their book selection. They then can watch their selected book fall to the bottom of the machine where the student then opens a flap on the bottom to retrieve their book, just like a regular vending machine.

The machine speaks to the student saying, “One book, coming right up,” and “Enjoy your book. Keep up the good work.” West Morgan Elementary ordered the machine, but the school’s art teacher designed the exterior cover art which includes stacks of books, children, “WMES” and “Let’s Read.”

“It looks cool because it has a bunch of books in it,” Gregg said. “It kind of looks like a real vending machine.”

Gregg said he likes to read and does so every couple of days. He said his favorite books are in the “Pete the Cat” series.

Gregg said the book machine makes him want to read more.

“(Reading) gets me smarter,” he said.

WMES Reading Specialist Carrie Johnson orchestrated getting the book vending machine. She said any new and exciting way to get the students to read is wonderful.

“A simple thing like a vending machine that we’ve always known to get snacks out of, now you get a free book,” Johnson said. “We want to always build excitement and love for reading for our kids and what better way to do that than this way. I don’t think many of our kids have ever seen anything (like this) before.”

Johnson said that the students have been thrilled with the new machine.

“The very first one, I believe, that came up said, ‘I get to pick it?’ Like them being able to choose their own book and, ‘I get to keep it?’ Of course you get to keep it; it’s your gift,” she said. “Just having that option of choosing their own; you can see the excitement in the kids’ eyes.”

Wiley Roberts, a 6-year-old first grader at WMES, picked out a book about the Titanic. He said he thought the machine was good.

“Because there’s books in it,” he said.

Roberts said he has a very important reason for loving to read.

“So I can get in second grade,” he said.

Johnson said she saw the idea on social media last school year.

“We are always looking for new things to bring to our students,” she said. “I found it on social media, and we checked into it right away.”

For the first year with the machine, Johnson said, students will get a token on their birthday.

“Not every kid can achieve a goal that’s set with AR (Accelerated Reader) points or with behavior; we want to work toward that,” she said. “(The principal) wanted to make sure a book got in every child’s hand so what better way to do that than as a birthday gift. When it’s their birthday, they get announced every morning and they get to come to the vending machine and pick out their book; you look forward to your birthday anyway but especially now.”

Johnson said they place a sticker inside each birthday book that tells the student happy birthday and that the book is a gift from the school.

WMES Principal Becky Burt said reading helps with student achievement.

“You want to find new and inventive ways to boost those test scores,” she said. “Through reading and through vocabulary development and through these kinds of things, we’re doing a real big push.”

Johnson said the machine can help the students with their at-home libraries.

“Anytime you can put a book in their hand and get it to go home and just build that home library is really important,” she said. “Just showing kids that it boosts their imagination, reading does, and the vocabulary you can get out of it. You can never teach a kid all the vocabulary they need but they can get that from a book, from reading more and more.”

Burt said anytime the students get to see words in print it is a positive thing.

“I just hope that it provides a springboard for a greater love of reading,” she said. “Also, books can take you places … even the graphic novels.”

Some of the younger students cannot yet read, Johnson said, but reading is still important to that age child.

“Our younger kids and even the population that we have here, just hearing these books read aloud by their parents or by their teacher builds that oral language that is so important for our younger years,” she said.

Adiley McNutt, a 6-year-old first grader at WMES, picked out a “Pete the Cat” book. She said she was excited about the new machine.

“It’s cool and fun because you get books out of it,” McNutt said.

McNutt said she likes to read.

“Because it’s fun for me,” she said.

Johnson said the cost was just over $7,000. The actual machine and artwork on the machine came from a state community service grant secured by state Sen. Arthur Orr, who visited the school Thursday morning to see the students using the machine. He said he believes the machine will encourage kids to read more, which is vital.

“These days we’re competing with the screens, whether they be iPads or laptops or TVs or whatever. Reading books is vitally important to the development of children,” Orr said. “And all the good that comes with it; better vocabulary, better ability to spell, better comprehension and of course, learning whatever the book’s trying to tell them.”

Even having the machine, Johnson said, they still had to fill it. Johnson said she and the Title I teacher both applied for various grants that supplied the books.

Orr said Burt was the first in his district to ask for a book vending machine.

“I thought it was something important to try,” he said. “Based on the response of the children it certainly seems like it’s a winner.”

Johnson said she hopes other schools will follow suit.

“We’re all here, every school, for the kids. Just get more books in kids’ hands and build literacy,” she said. “Nowhere in our immediate little area here has one.”

Burt agreed that she would like to see them in other schools.

“In this business, you don’t want to hoard your ideas. You want to share and be someone that can help someone else,” she said. “We all learn from each other and if we all work together and share our ideas, just think of the possibilities that we could offer children.”

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