Students can take a break to visit a new vending machine at Westgate Elementary School, but they won’t find any snacks inside.
The appliance instead offers books that can be taken home permanently with the use of a shiny gold token.
Westside Community Schools staff gathered Wednesday to unveil a new book vending machine, which was donated by the Christ Child Society of Omaha as part of a pilot literacy program.
Students can earn tokens either by having positive referrals or by buying them with their “gator bucks” — fake money given to students who demonstrate good behavior in the classroom.
Sue Seline, vice president of the National Christ Child Society board, said Omaha’s pilot program will start with Westgate Elementary but could expand to other metro schools depending on its results. Besides the installation of the vending machine, volunteers will visit the school throughout the year to host reading events.
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“Back when I was a kid, learning how to read — it made a difference in my life. And so I hope that will happen here,” Seline said.
The Christ Child Society of Omaha, which has been around the metro area for more than a century, focuses on serving children in need. Seline said local members got the idea of the vending machine after the national organization introduced two others in different states. The Westside school district houses the third book vending machine so far.
The machine itself cost $6,000, and the school also will receive up to $1,500 a year to fill it with books, Seline said.
Breezy Parker, a Westgate Elementary reading specialist, said the books are picked out through Scholastic, a children’s book publisher commonly used in schools. Only time will tell how fast students will go through the books currently in the machine.
Parker said all of her students have been excited while waiting for the installation of the vending machine. In the past few weeks, her colleagues would routinely ask when students can start getting books out of the machine.
“This is just a really special opportunity to get books in the homes of our students,” Parker said.
A small group of students helped unveil the machine by being its first customers. After sliding in the gold token, they punched in the combination of what book they wanted, and it was dispensed below, just like regular vending machines.
Each student used markers to sign their names on the inside covers of their books, which will go home with them. Some of the students said they didn’t know they were going to be chosen to receive a book until Wednesday morning. Others said the only time they get access to many books is at the school library.
“There are kids who don’t have books in the home. You don’t think that, but there are. And the teachers always know,” Seline said. “So if we can help get books in the homes, and especially books that they pick out — I hope that will resonate.”