Port Jeff Elementary Unveils Book Vending Machine

Port Jeff Elementary Unveils Book Vending Machine

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Second-grader Sophie Franck was one of the first children to use the Port Jeff elementary school's new book vending machine. Photo by Kyle Barr

We all know that expectant feeling of a vending machine when the twin arms uncoil around the prize, whether it’s a soda or snack, waiting for it to clang in the bottom of the bin and placate our hunger.

Librarian Selinda Stout shows the tokens used for the book vending machine. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though in the Port Jefferson elementary school, it’s not sugar and salt suffused snacks plopping into the bin, but a copy of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” or “The Baby-sitters Club.”

The Edna Louise Spear Elementary School unveiled the new “Bookworm” vending machine Feb. 11 that stocks more than 300 books, with 20 different books for the separate grade levels, both fiction and nonfiction. Instead of using money, the vending machine receives tokens which students get for going above and beyond in the library or in any of their normal classrooms. Though these book vending devices have popped up in several other states like Florida and in upstate schools like in Buffalo, the new machine is one of the first of its kind in Suffolk County.

Selinda Stout, the school’s librarian, said students could get a token for good behavior, especially if they’re trying to read beyond their grade level or deciding to read a new genre. 

“If there’s a teacher who sees a student working hard all week who deserves a token, they can get it from me, then they can come down and choose a book,” Stout said. “I think this will bridge the gap of reading — I think kids will be very excited to take it home themselves, and I think it will bring really good behavior into the library and into the classroom.”

The first seven children to get a book from the vending machine ranged from pre-K to fifth grade. Their choices ran the gamut, with young second-grader Sophie Franck picking “Molly’s Story,” and third-grader Rahym Khan deciding on “Who Is Derek Jeter?” Fourth-grader Elizabeth Yin, whom Stout said was reading “well above her grade level,” chose “More Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids.” Pre-K student Maggie Masone chose “Pete the Cat,” and was aided by Stout who lifted her up to press the buttons. Each book is for the student to keep. 

Principal Tom Meehan joined librarian Selinda Stout and seven other students from pre-K through fifth-grade to release the new book vending machine. Photo by Kyle Barr

The idea came by elementary principal, Tom Meehan, when he was reading news one morning and came across a school in Florida which had installed one of the vending machines. He contacted the school librarian to discuss it, and shortly thereafter she wrote a grant application to the Port Jefferson Royal Educational Foundation, a nonprofit that uses funds to help out the district with special projects or to supplement its curricula when it doesn’t necessarily have the budget available.

Foundation treasurer, Laura Zimmerman, said the foundation thought the vending machine was a great idea and gathered around $4,100 for purchasing and installing it. Overall it was a 10-month process from inception to delivery, but the school kept the machine covered for several weeks until its official unveiling. 

Meehan said the machine is especially important getting books into kids’ hands for them to keep, adding as students get older, “we find they stop reading as much as they used to.” 

Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said if the vending machine proves successful, they could look into putting such a device in both the middle and high schools.

“The more we can get books into a kid’s hands the better,” she said. “This is a great investment for them.”

The Port Jeff Royal Education Foundation will be hosting its major fundraiser April 25 with the Jill Nees-Russell Family Fun Run and is still accepting participants.