The most popular vending machines in some Treasure Coast elementary and middle schools don’t dispense candy or soda.
They’re usually the ones that dole out books.
In Martin County schools, for example — where they’re provided by the Education Foundation of Martin County — the machines are in the school media centers. Using them requires a special gold coin, which students earn by meeting reading goals or earning points from book quizzes.
“It looks cool,” said Crystal Lake Elementary student Francisco Otzoy Pec, 9, who was selecting the book “Luca” from the vending machine. Francisco set his own goal to earn 100 points for reading.
“I read so many books. I just never stop reading,” Francisco said.
The Education Foundation began the vending machine project in 2020, and since has equipped every traditional public elementary and middle school with a vending machine and an annual stock of 2,500 books, said Education Foundation Director Lisa Rhodes. The Hope Center for Autism charter school also has one, she said. The program has become so popular that even the district’s high schools have expressed interest in the machines
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“I like getting books,” said Crystal Lake Elementary student Avni Viveck, 9. “When you read a book, you get the image in your head. It’s like you’re in your own adventure.”
That’s what Rhodes wants to hear. The purpose of the program, she said, is to get students to read.
“I like how there’s plenty of books to choose from, and (the selection) updates a lot,” said Hugo Zwarts, 8. Using the machine, he said, is fun: “It felt like I would only do this in a museum.”
Students support each other in the program, encouraging one another to read and earn their free books, said Crystal Lake Elementary media specialist Elizabeth Martin. Classmates cheer for each other when someone earns enough points for their first token, she said.
‘New books every day’
Emma Kelley, 9, who’s so far earned 330 points, visits the Crystal Lake Elementary media center almost daily.
“I just like to see what new books are there every day,” she said.
In St. Lucie County, White City and Windmill Point elementary schools have book vending machines through a partnership with the Children Services Council, district spokesperson Lydia Martin said.
In Indian River County, Beachland Elementary School Parent Teacher Association bought a book vending machine to use with its behavior-reward program.
It costs about $5,000 for the machine and startup expenses, said Beachland Principal Rachel Finnegan. The school goes through about $500 of books each semester, so book drives help keep the machine stocked with new and gently-used books, she said.
For Beachland’s behavior-reward system, students earn “surf tickets” when “caught” doing something kind or showing good behavior such as standing in line quietly, Finnegan explained. Those tickets can be exchanged for rewards such as getting to use the teacher’s comfortable chair or having lunch with the teacher.
Children learn to save, too. Earning one gold coin for the vending machine costs 35 surf tickets. Up to 50 students a week use the machine.
“We want to recognize them for doing something good,” Finnegan said. “If we can put a book in their hands, that’s even better.”