Hamilton schools use vending machines for student books

Students is some Hamilton elementary schools are eagerly lining up for new vending machines in their schools but not to get sugar highs from empty calorie snacks.

Instead, the unusual vending machines are dispensing classic children’s literature as fare for their growing minds and souls in a first-year experiment Hamilton Schools officials are already calling a success.

The book vending machines, which are now in five of elementaries with other schools planning to add in the future, are making the choosing of books for students a more fun process, said Bridgeport Elementary Principal Stephanie Oakes.

And while the machines put more “fun” into schools’ emphasis on the fundamental importance of reading, they have a dual purpose as the tickets used to operate the vending stands are handed out by teachers to reinforce and reward good behavior by the youngsters, said Oakes.

“We give them for positive behavior interventions so kids can earn what are called ‘cool cat tickets” by (being) respectful, responsible and problem solvers,” she said.

And when teachers also see students actively reading their literature assignments in the classroom, they are given “rock star reader” tickets they can later redeem by inserting into the vending machine and choosing a book to their liking.

Grant money is paying for the machines and profits from school book fairs are helping to pay for purchasing books to stock up the vending devices.

It’s the latest of a series of new experiments being tried by the 9,000-student city school system to encourage reading and other academic progress among its enrollment.

Hamilton, like many school systems locally and nationwide, continue to work toward closing student proficiency gaps widened by the disruptions of learning and on-again, off-again school schedules since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 that largely challenged districts in 2021 and lingered into 2022.

The district is one of the first in the region to also experiment with using two teachers in elementary grade classrooms to help students learn reading and other academic subjects.

ExploreTwo-teacher approach in Hamilton City Schools classrooms is paying off, leaders say

The grade-school students initially didn’t “know what they were getting into” with the vending devices that often tower over most of the children, said Oakes.

The books are displayed in glass with their colorful covers facing outward much like snack vending machines.

“Then when they step up to it, they are very excited to use it and to see it (their chosen book) fall,” into the dispenser slot where the students can then reach into and grab their new book.

“And it’s always fun to see when new people come into the building or they have little siblings because everybody wants to ‘buy’ the books as well,” said Oakes.

Nick Graham contributed to this story.

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