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At A Jupiter Elementary School, A Vending Machine Doles Out Books, Not Snacks

Courtesy Jerry Thomas Elementary PTO
Jerry Thomas Elementary School student Jaxson Lawrence takes a token to feed into the book vending machine at its ribbon cutting last fall.

Vending machines in school cafeterias aren’t always a huge hit with parents. They usually hold chips, cookies, sugary drinks and other snacks that worry health-conscious adults.

The vending machine in Jerry Thomas Elementary’s cafeteria, on the other hand, is doling out something that all parents can get behind – books.

The Jupiter school installed a “Bookworm” vending machine last fall. Students earn tokens for reading and good behavior. They drop them into the vending machine, type in the letter and number of the book they want, and it drops, with a thunk, to where it can be picked up from a slot at the base of the machine.

It’s part of a school-wide effort to reward kids for good behavior.

“We’re rewarding them and recognizing them for behaviors that they are taught,” said principal Jeffrey Eassa. “They are awarded a token to the book vending machine, and then as they collect those tokens, they can spend them on Friday at the book vending machine.”

Students can earn different tokens for different actions – and spend them on different things. For the books, each class chooses one “Reader of the Week,” who gets a token for the vending machine.

The books are picked out from Scholastic – of school book fair fame – and geared toward the elementary grade levels.

It’s this year’s major project for the Jerry Thomas Elementary Parent Teacher Organization, said PTO President Yael Lawrence. She saw an article about the vending machines on social media, and brought it to the rest of the PTO.

“The administration had asked for money to give to kids every week as a reward for good behavior,” she said. “We thought, how cool would it be if we could give each child a book instead of a food reward?”

The machine is restocked monthly, though Lawrence said she drops by about once a week to check it and sometimes refill it. Each month, the PTO lines up two sponsors who help pay for the books in the machine. Each pays $350 to cover 200 books, which then have a little sticker inside with the business’s name and information.

“This is giving the kids excitement about literacy, excitement on wanting to complete a task and earn something,” Lawrence said. “They get very excited when they come into the cafeteria with their tokens and they're all, ‘I got the golden token this week!’”

In the meantime, word about Jerry Thomas Elementary’s machine has spread even farther than Principal Eassa expected.

“I had a media specialist in Texas that had heard about our book vending machine – they ended up buying one for their school,” he said. “It’s interesting how far, or how quick, word does travel when you’re doing something positive.”

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