RAYNHAM — For two weeks the students saw him sitting in the cafeteria. Kindergarteners and first graders looked at it, wondering what it was and why it was there.
It’s a big, colorful vending machine. But instead of snacks and sodas, it’s filled with brightly colored books.
Merrill Elementary School has just unveiled its new Inchy the Bookworm vending machine. Students watched Merrill the Lion, the school mascot, cut the bright yellow ribbon with a pair of black scissors on Thursday morning, marking the official start of the program.
“It will marry technology and a good old-fashioned book,” said Joanne Tupper, co-chair of the school’s Early Childhood Parent Organization (ECPO).
In exchange for acts of kindness, students will receive small gold coins printed with Inchy the Bookworm’s image that work exclusively on this machine. As the coin falls from the thin slot, the machine says “a book is coming”, before releasing the student’s book of choice.
“Even the pieces themselves are just fun for kids,” Tupper said.
Jay Blumberg, founder of vending machine manufacturing company Global Vending, said he created the machine as a unique way to encourage reading among children. The company presented the prototype in 2018, and in 2019 “the floodgates are opening”. There are now more than 4,000 machines in elementary, middle and high schools across the country.
“It’s not just a machine, it’s really more of a comprehensive program designed to engage children in literacy,” Blumberg said. “A lot of schools, they have iPads, they have computers, but a lot of them don’t have real books in the classroom.”
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Blumberg said many schools they sell these machines to don’t have their own librarians. Libraries are only open two or three times a week and librarians divide their time between several schools.
At Merrill, they have their own librarian who works full time in the school library, and students can borrow books during their library time once a week.
Each school that purchases the machine receives 100 reusable tokens, and Global Vending has its own art and design department so schools can have custom designs on the outside of the machine. Interior shelves and slots are also customizable to accommodate different book sizes.
The machine, which weighs 650 pounds, can hold up to 20 different books, totaling between 200 and 300 individual pounds inside.
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Janel Hughes, co-president of Tupper’s ECPO, first saw the book vending machine on a PTO Facebook page. Stoughton Elementary Schools had installed the same machines earlier in the year. Once ECPO raised enough money from donations, they bought one and it was delivered to the school two weeks ago.
“Nowadays everything is electronic,” Tupper said. “It really is so perfect.”
Merrill Elementary, which has 331 kindergarten and first-grade students, is the first school in the district to introduce the book vending machine.
All students are just beginning to learn to read. For younger children there are picture books and a collection of ‘Find the differences’ activity books. For first graders, they can choose from various chapter books like “Clifford’s Good Deeds”.
All of the books were sourced from Scholastic and were purchased using credits the school has accumulated by hosting Scholastic book fairs over the years. Each book centers around a theme of good deeds or being a good friend.
“It’s all in sync with what we’re hoping to reinforce with the kids,” Tupper said.