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Golden coin in; Spanish-language book out

PTO-supplied book vending machine makes books ‘as appealing as candy’

Forest Hills — Second-grade teacher Trevor Hollenbeck calls the tall, brightly-lit vending machine just inside the front doors of Ada Vista Elementary a “school community builder.” Fourth-grade student Haylee Preston can prove it. 

“Today I helped a first-grader who looked sad,” Haylee said one recent school day. “I asked if she was OK.” 

Her teacher, Mayela Rosales, noticed her kindness and gave her a prized gold coin, one of 20 given out for a visit to the PTO-supplied book vending machine. Receiving the gold coin made Haylee feel special and important. And it gave her what she needed to activate the magical machine. 

The machine dispenses only Spanish-language titles, filling a need parents expressed for at-home reading. They wanted books to continue students’ multi-language development at home to reinforce the Early-Total One-Way Spanish language immersion experience at school. 

Principal Allison Woodside de Carillo knew the value of the book vending machine from her previous work at Burton Elementary in Grand Rapids. She pitched the idea to the PTO at Ada Vista in 2021. “They immediately went for it,” she said. 

PTO President Marie Clark added that the book vending machine is a focal point in the school in both proximity and purpose. “It incentivizes Spanish reading for kids,” she said. “We didn’t think twice about supporting it.” 

Manufactured by Global Vending Group, the “Inchy’s Bookworm” vending machines are designed for “rewarding for positives, bridging the gap between literacy and engagement, and bringing excitement to reading.”

The book vending machine is a focal point of interest for students at Ada Vista Elementary

So how is that playing out at Ada Vista? One way is through teachers giving a golden coin monthly to recognize a “superhero” student for helping others or their school. Any staff member can also award a coin to any student for being a great community member; some months, accomplishments like frequently speaking Spanish outside of class also qualify students for a gold coin. And, classmates, too, nominate their peers.

‘It’s such a positive when we all work together for kids.’

– Second-grade teacher Trevor Hollenbeck

“It feels very exciting because you are getting rewarded for good things,” fourth-grader Haylee said of receiving her gold coin. “It makes you want to help even more.” 

Books Open ‘A New World’

Parents, too, are engaged in the effort. Clark noted that parents support restocking of the machine through twice-yearly Scholastic Book Fair proceeds and Amazon wish list donations. She added that the experience for her own third-grader was exciting and fun, and the selected book a treasure. 

“Choosing books from a shelf or a box just wouldn’t be as magical,” she said.  

‘When you make books as appealing as candy we all win.’

– PTO President Marie Clark

Haylee was decisive when she stepped up to the machine, popped in her gold coin and picked “Luna Fortuna,” a book she had read previously. 

“It was a library book so I couldn’t keep it,” she said. “I chose it today so I could own it.

“Reading a book, you enter a new world,” she added, noting that reading in Spanish “can be overwhelming… but once you read more, you feel more confident.”

Mari DeJong, a third-grader in teacher Lyndsey Burghardt’s class, chose a book by its cover, which featured a cat. She thinks the book will be a “good and interesting” choice for at-home reading. 

As Principal Woodside de Carillo called each grade-level group of students to the lobby to insert a coin into the machine, it was clear that there had been discussion, browsing and pre-selecting by some. Many older students experienced the first thrill of a machine-vended book last year.

“When they walk by the machine, students stop and look to see what books are available,” noted Hollenbeck, the second-grade teacher.  

But kindergartners were new to the experience, and their excitement was brighter than the lights on the sides of the machine. Many pointed expectantly at the title they wanted to drop down and giggled when it hit the drawer after pushing the buttons. 

‘I read it a few years ago. It was a library book so I couldn’t keep it. I chose it today so I could own it.’

– Fourth-grader Haylee Preston on ‘Luna Fortuna’

Hollenbeck summed up the program that distributes about 100 books a month: “It’s such a positive when we all work together for kids.” 

Clark, the PTO president, couldn’t agree more: “When you make books as appealing as candy we all win.” The novel vending experience, she said, “is all of the fun of childhood combined.”

Golden coins make book dreams come true
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Carol Lautenbach
Carol Jasperse Lautenbach served in many roles during her 29 years in Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, most recently as assistant superintendent for teaching and learning design, a role she retired from in 2021. She is co-author of “Making Schools Work: Bringing the science of learning to joyful classroom practice” and has written for The Alan Review, The Rapidian, and Midwest Living. She was honored to be appointed to Governor Gretchen Whitmer's 2021 Student Recovery Advisory Council’s Innovation and Redesign subcommittee. Carol is inspired by the students, educators, families, community partners, cultural institutions, and philanthropists who work together to design and build joyful, equitable learning communities.

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