PEARCY -- Lake Hamilton Elementary School received a new book vending machine last week, much to the excitement of students.
Although the machine, which looks and operates just like a standard snack vending machine, has been in its place inside the elementary school lobby over the past few weeks, it has been "wrapped like a present," as clues were periodically relayed to the students regarding what was actually underneath the paper.
The book vending machine is a unique tool the district can use to further increase its focus on literacy and encourage students to become lifelong readers, according to school officials.
Allison Spraggins, Lake Hamilton second-grade counselor and building parental involvement coordinator, said the overlying goal with the project is to have an impact far beyond the traditional reading education of the student while in school, and reach into their home and family life in such a way that it remains, and continues to be, a benefit for them for years to come.
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"Our main focus at Lake Hamilton Elementary is literacy, and getting books in the hands of our students," she said. "And so we saw the book vending machine and partnered with our parent-teacher organization to make it a reality.
"We just thought it'd be a fun way for kids to earn tokens and get to pick their own books -- books that they could keep and take home and add to their home library."
Instead of using actual money, the book vending machine uses gold tokens that a student earns through reaching specific academic goals in the classroom or by showing outstanding character. Spraggins said teachers can turn in "character brags" to either her or the third-grade counselor and be awarded with a token. The student goes to the office and receives help to choose whichever book they would like to read to take home with them to keep.
Book titles and series vary but generally consist of those they know the students like.
"There are series that we know are popular with the students through our library media center," she said. "They kind of gave us some guidance on things that they check out a lot. And then just being in the classrooms and seeing things that they read. But some are just at random through Scholastic (Book Clubs). We just order kits and then the students see something that sparks their interest and that's what they want to choose."
Spraggins said the process of leading up to last Tuesday's big reveal was exciting, but also a bit frustrating for the students at times.
"They'd be like, 'Oh, we still don't get to open it yet?'" she said. "When we were waiting, there were just some logistics that had to happen. We got the vending machine but then we had to get the books and then the tokens in, and so we just put clues and gave them some fun things to look forward to.
"We'd say, 'There's a surprise coming soon,' and then we'd give them a clue."
The staff even made a video recording of some of their ideas, which ranged from go-karts to robots to -- perhaps jokingly -- a trapped teacher inside waiting to be let out.
"Class groups would come down and read the clue and give their ideas about what they thought it might be," she said. "It was fun."
Spraggins noted her favorite part of the new book vending machine project is seeing the students pick up their books.
"Coming to the vending machine, putting their tokens in and picking," she said. Last Thursday was "our first day that students actually started getting books out of it and it was just great to see them and the excitement. And then when they came down as a whole class, and then just sitting there reading their books and being excited about reading. ... "
While Lake Hamilton is the first public school district in Garland County to receive a book vending machine, other districts in the area have shown great interest and contacted the school. Spraggins said they are looking forward to the future and how students will earn their tokens in the process.
She said their main objective is simply encouraging students to be lifelong learners.
"It's one of the things that we talk about, even in our counseling classes, about always being open to learning new things and finding things that interest us," she said. "And so literacy is embedded into every aspect of education.
"It's in our math, it's in our science, it's in our social studies, and, of course, literacy and reading and writing, so getting books into the hands of our students to take home and then making that a family thing too and getting the family excited about reading. And, you know, big brothers and sisters can share with younger brothers and sisters, the books that they've gotten from the vending machine, or even older siblings too can read if it's not quite on their level," she said.
"So it's just kind of created -- it's fun and it's something that we're using here as a tool, but then it's also going to be able to be a tool at home for parents and families to use as well to make sure there are literacy-rich environments in the home."