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Southwood Valley Elementary School installs book vending machine

Southwood Valley Elementary School installs book vending machine

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Typically, when a student wants a book, a visit to the library or to the bookstore is required. Students at Southwood Valley Elementary School, though, now have another option: a vending machine.

After a grant from the College Station ISD Education Foundation and some delays due to COVID-19, the school’s book vending machine — dubbed Literacy Treats for the Mind — was officially unveiled last week.

“It’s really amazing,” fourth grade Southwood Valley student Caleb Dunn said. “It’s weird, because nobody has ever seen a book vending machine before. It’s kind of weird and exciting at the same time.”

Unlike library books that have to be returned, these books are the students’ to keep for their home library, Southwood Valley librarian Debbie Leland said.

“For some students, [it] may be the first book that they have in their home library,” she said.

Dunn said the books he and his classmates pick out are ones they can continue reading for the rest of their lives.

The books, which range from picture books to chapter books, are free, but students must earn a special token to use in the machine by displaying “book worthy” traits or characteristics. These traits include leadership, a positive attitude, teamwork and self-control, Southwood Valley Principal Ali DeLuna said. Teachers will give students a slip with a trait on it, she said, and then the student can trade that slip in for a token.

“I think it’s going to help us focus our conversation and help students focus a little bit,” she said. “ ‘Just be good’ is such an abstract concept for some kids, and so this kind of helps them focus and have one little thing.”

It is not limited to those students who are always doing the right thing or behaving, but also those who make it a goal to work on a certain character trait.

“If they’re accountable or if they are showing leadership or if they’ve got self-control that day, they can earn a slip and go get a book,” she said. “It’s really open to everybody, and when they go to select it, they don’t worry about how much it costs.”

DeLuna said she enjoys seeing students’ faces as they select a book and then get to take it home with them.

“I think it’s just going to increase that love of learning and that desire to grow,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to build here. I think it’s just going to bring the excitement to all the kids.”

A key to the machine, Leland said, is for students to self-select their books based on interests and reading level.

Cara Tye, who is teaching virtual kindergarten at the school, said she looks at the books each time she walks by, because when new books appear at the front of the vending machine, she knows another student earned a book.

Leland keeps track of students who have gotten a book out of the machine to make sure all students have the opportunity to make a selection, including those learning virtually.

“Even when they’re virtual, they’re on Zoom, they can have self-control. … They can still have leadership by speaking up and answering things in Zoom,” Tye said. “They can still show that positive attitude about things.”

To make sure students get to be part of the selection, Leland said, teachers have held a Zoom in front of the vending machine so the student can choose which book they want and see their selected book fall to the removal slot. The students can then pick up the book at the school during the library’s drive-thru virtual checkout time.

The Education Foundation grant came with between 300 and 400 books, and as a Title I campus, the school can purchase books at a discounted price, Leland said.

Martin Marietta and the school’s PTO have also provided donations and grants to purchase books, DeLuna said.

The school is also planning on having a fund in place where the public can donate to purchase more books.

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