Book vending machine a hit at Besser Elementary

News Photo by Zipporah Abarca Students Miles Granata (left), Jack Young (middle) and Beckett Granata (right) pose in front of the book vending machine in Besser Elementary School before choosing a book to take home on Tuesday.

ALPENA — Before summer begins, students gather with their tokens to receive a free book from the book vending machine in the front entrance of Besser Elementary School.

The elementary school introduced its first book vending machine last Wednesday, when it held the ribbon cutting ceremony.

All books within the machine are free for students to earn to take home and keep.

Betsy Young, a parent volunteer for the Parent Advisory Council (PAC), said the goal is for every student at Besser to have their own books so they can continue reading at home.

“It’s so important for them (students) to have their own books at home that are theirs,” she said. “It’s a different feeling … And that means something to a lot of them.”

News Photo by Zipporah Abarca Third grade student Miles Granata from Besser Elementary School chooses a Ted Arnold book from the book vending machine on Tuesday before the summer starts.

In order to use the machine, students are given tokens by their teachers and administrators to reward them for their positive behavior. Tracie Granata, the president of the PAC, said some of the behaviors include being kind and helpful with their peers as well as working hard in class.

Young said the council left it up to teachers and administrators to determine the specifics of how to utilize the tokens because they are the ones interacting with the students every day.

Lee Fitzpatrick, communications director for Alpena Public Schools, said it is a multi-tiered system of support.

“It’s what they did as a wonderful kind of connection to what the school uses for discipline,” he said. “It’s attempting to build up the positive behaviors, as opposed to trying to eliminate negative behaviors.”

The idea for the book vending machine came from a teacher when the PAC met in January to decide the plan for this year’s March reading month. Young said the school likes to challenge students with reading in their free time for the readathon and wanted to come up with new resources to support this goal.

News Photo by Zipporah Abarca Besser Elementary School students Beckett Granata (left), Jack Young (middle) and Miles Granata (right) look for what books they would like to spend their token on from the book vending machine on Tuesday.

“Everyone thought it was like a really cool idea,” Young said. “It was exciting, and just a really unique opportunity.”

After doing research on other schools that have similar initiatives, parents were given information in February regarding how the donations made for the readathon would be going towards this effort.

Granata said Wilson Elementary School was the first school in Alpena to do something like this. Now, there are three schools that have a book vending machine — Wilson, Besser and Hinks elementaries.

To round up the funds, Young said families and community members were able to sponsor a Besser child on the website they used, 99Pledges. Checks and cash were also accepted. In total, $5,500 was raised to purchase the book vending machine.

Granata said the PAC had leftover money from previous fundraisers, so they were able to put $2,000 towards personalizing the machine with a Besser Elementary School logo and a “cool kids read” message.

“Last year, we were blown away by the support from the parents and the community members that sponsored our students, and this year was even better than last year,” Young said. “So, it seems like it’s a really wonderful fundraiser for our school and something that the parents can get behind.”

“I think that parents see how excited the kids are about reading and about being able to choose a book and bring it back home…,” Granata said.

There are about 300 books that go into the vending machine. With 20 slots, each book is different and arranged by reading level.

The books on the lower rows of the machine mostly consist of picture books meant for the kindergarteners. And as the rows go up, the books are more advanced.

“It kind of is by eye level… you think of a kindergartner, they’re going to be looking right in front of them, they’re going to see the books that are more geared towards them,” Young said. “An older [student’s vision] is going to be more aligned with the books that are appropriate for their grade level.”

Young said the PAC is invested in helping teachers create an environment that is going to help them, and students be the most successful.

“I think we’re planning on a couple times a year being able to restock that, and being able to fund and purchase those books so there are constantly new books being shown through the glass … for the kids,” Granata said.

The selection process for the books is based on previous book fairs and what books or authors seemed most popular with the kids. Young said teacher recommendations will most likely be part of the process as well.

“I think the specialized books that we get to hand pick and choose that go in there and makes it unique to our school,” Granata said.

Young said there was a lot of opportunity post-pandemic to restrengthen the relationship between the PAC, school staff and students. There was a need for a community effort to foster a love for learning. And to Young, this book vending machine is “a great symbol of that.”

“We’re supporting the teachers, the teachers are supporting the kids, the kids are getting supported through the books, and then it just keeps getting to rinse and repeat forever now that we have this machine,” Young said.

During the ribbon cutting last week, all fifth graders were invited to be part of it and were given tokens to get a free book before they leave for the summer. Little fingerprints remain all over the glass from students peering into the machine.

“All of them were telling Tracie and I ‘thank you,’ they were I mean, really, like being very mindful of what they were choosing,” Young said. “And the teachers were telling us, ‘Thank You.'”

First grade student Beckett Granata said it is “pretty cool,” to have the book vending machine. His brother, third grade student, Miles Granata and fellow first grade student Jack Young agreed.

“We’re just excited to see how it really works next year, with how often it’s being replenished, and all of that, but our goal is to have it as a resource,” Tracie Granata said. “And it will be something that we continue to provide as a resource to our school.”

Fitzpatrick said on behalf of the public school’s department, a program created by local parent groups that both supports behavior and learning is “everything we could possibly want it to be.”

“We are super thankful for the parent groups and the work they do,” he said.

Tracie Granata expressed her own gratitude for parents and community members that supported the children through March’s reading month.

“…Without them pledging and giving donations for the students reading per minute, or per book, however they wanted to pledge it, we wouldn’t have had this opportunity. It definitely takes community support to get behind something like that, and for them to support the students and the staff around that is just a pretty awesome thing to see come to life.”

This story was produced as part of the Michigan News Group Internship. Zipporah Abarca is working for WCMU this summer at The Alpena News.


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