Kids at Garden Elementary School in Venice can pick books from an automated vending machine.
Kids crowd around a vending machine, pointing to what they hope to pick out when they get a chance. They’re not excited about candy or soda, but rather, books.
The first book vending machine in Sarasota County is at Garden Elementary School in Venice.
Third-grader Hannah Ferguson giggled as she picked out the book she’s been waiting to get from the machine.
“It’s a graphic novel,” she said proudly.
Each month, the school celebrates a character trait, like responsibility or friendship, and teachers give tickets when they catch a student in an act that demonstrates the trait. At the end of the month, teachers draw a ticket out of the pile for all 60 classes, and the winners receive a token that can be used in the machine.
“One of my students who doesn’t typically like to read got to vend a book today, and he came back so excited, showing everyone in the entire class his book,” said first-grade teacher Tara Davies.
The $5,000 vending machine was funded through a nonprofit that takes online donations from people who want to support classroom projects. When Garden Elementary’s Reading Recovery teacher, Stacy Bellanca, started posting the project on Facebook and Twitter, people from across the country donated.
“It was a lot of work to get it funded and get it here, but it’s so exciting to walk down the hallway every day and see it there and see the kids excited about it,” said Theresa Butler, a first-grade teacher. “Just today, I saw some fourth-graders standing outside the machine and saying, ‘I want this one, I want that one.’”
Each classroom yields a winner each month, so 60 students a month get to pick out a book. The books to fill the machine cost $4,000 and were funded through the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“The initial goal was to get the kids excited about literacy,” Bellanca said.
As the Reading Recovery teacher, Bellanca works with first-graders who score in the bottom 20% of reading tests. After the kids improve their reading enough to discontinue the intervention program, she follows those kids and other struggling readers throughout first, second, and third grades with small group instruction.
“We thought that this (machine) would be a great addition to help get that interest with our kids and help close the reading gap,” Bellanca said.
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