Anyone strolling into Fair Oaks Ranch Community School’s library will find a vending machine filled with … books?
Last week, the elementary school welcomed attendees with a ribbon-cutting event during back-to-school night, where parents and kids looked with anticipation given that the vending machine took months to research, order and assemble.
The driving forces behind this initiative included Fair Oaks Ranch PTA President Zacha Carpenter and Librarian Sheri Nelson.
“All credit goes to PTA. I had the idea and it was my wish, and [Carpenter] saw it through. She researched, communicated with the company and decided when it could be delivered,” Nelson said. “We had it formatted, but she took care of everything. I’m just a lucky librarian that gets to have it in the library, and I get to maintain it. I’m so excited.”
Inspired by other schools out of state that used a similar system, Nelson wanted to find a way to continuously encourage students to read.
“I wanted to know what would be a good reading incentive for the students. What sort of reward system can we have? I saw this idea at another school in another state,” Nelson said.
The system will entail each teacher receiving a certain number of coins, which will then allow the students who have received the coins, as a reward, to pick their favorite of the selections to take home.
“Every teacher would get a certain amount of coins. The [books are] awarded for reading, writing, something in the language department, and when [the students] come to the library and if they have a gold coin, because students come to the library once a week, they get to put it in the mini machine,” Nelson said.
This program is designed to encourage students to not only read more, but also to have the resources to do so off of school grounds.
“For students in our community that don’t always have access to or someone to help them get to a bookstore or get to a public library, we know that they’ll have a book at home. They’ll get it from school,” Nelson said.
The vending machine’s contents are made up entirely of donations, and each book must be new.
“[I look for popular titles] that I know that the kids would enjoy, along with current events, like Taylor Swift and the Women’s World Cup, Lionel Messi,” Nelson said. “I also go to Barnes and Noble to see what publishers are putting out there for elementary school kids. I take pride in finding the latest and greatest for the kids, and when they come and ask me, ‘Do you have a book on this?’ I’ll write it down,” Nelson said.
The process included garnering support from parents to encourage a monumental community effort.
“I put together an Amazon wishlist. If a parent purchased a book on the Amazon wishlist, [the students] received a raffle ticket and the ticket went into a bin. If their name was pulled, they got to be librarian for the day.”
Nelson spent months spreading the word, making sure that students approached the new year with something to look forward to.
“The kids are super excited. It [took] a few months to order the vending machine, and we wanted to bring awareness to it. So, I had a big poster made, and I had it in the library all last year,” Nelson said. “When a third grader would ask [me when] the machine is coming, I’d say, ‘What grade are you in?’ and [if they responded that] they are third graders, [I’d say], ‘When you’re in fourth grade, it’ll be here.’”
Not only are the kids excited, as expected, but so are the parents:
“The parents were very excited. I think that they think this is a novelty, and something that they want to stand behind because it’s reading further for their child. It’s an exciting way to get a new book,” Nelson said.