Russellville Ind. vending machines reward students with books
Kentucky School Advocate
By Matt McCarty
When Russellville Independent students stand in front of a vending machine, they have many choices. They can pick something that will nourish their mind or select an item that will quench the thirst of their imagination.
The vending machines don’t dispense junk food, they dispense books. When students accumulate enough Accelerated Reader (AR) points, they earn tokens to use in the machines which were added this school year.
“The fact that (the students) are aware of how many points they have is probably an indication that there’s some motivation there,” Russellville Superintendent Bart Flener said.
District officials saw the vending machines featured on an episode of “Good Morning America” and immediately contacted the company, Global Vending Group, to purchase the machines, which were $3,495 each.
The vending machines are part of a larger endeavor in the district to improve literacy and to foster a love of reading among students.
“The leadership team at our district works hard to provide multiple ways for our students to improve their literacy skills,” said Russellville board member Davonna Page, who is also KSBA’s president-elect. “The vending machine is just the latest and most fun way for our students to improve their reading skills, and more importantly to develop a love of reading that will last them a lifetime.”
Russellville has received two Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) grants through the U.S. Department of Education. The IAL program supports high-quality programs designed to develop and improve literacy skills from birth through 12th grade by supporting high-quality plans for literacy activities and book distribution efforts.
Russellville received a two-year $1.75 million IAL grant in 2016 and then was awarded a three-year $2.25 million IAL grant. The district also received a $300,000 Striving Readers state grant.
In addition to the vending machines, the district has used the grants to hire literacy coaches, library assistants and an outreach director; to upgrade its school libraries with new furniture and more books; to add a bookmobile; to purchase Chromebooks, Kindles and new curriculum; and to provide free books for students through the vending machines and free miniature libraries around the community.
“It’s been great for our kids, it’s been great for our staff, too,” said Steven Moats, Russellville’s chief academic officer, noting the grants also provide professional learning and teachers stipends for extra work related to the grant. “Having the luxury to have this money that’s over to the side that we can really focus in on the exact needs of our students and our teachers, it’s been really fantastic.”
Moats said the best academic indicator of a child’s success is reading and the district’s goal is to develop an appreciation for reading by increasing access to books.
“The bottom line is we’re trying to develop a love of reading with everybody,” Moats said.
The district has added thousands of new books to its libraries and gave each student a collection of books to take home last spring. Students in preschool, kindergarten and first grade received 35 books and students in grades two through 11 received 10 books each.
“If they have something that’s theirs, and they don’t have to give it back, and they maybe take a little more ownership of it and want to read as opposed to ‘I’m just borrowing this,’’’ said Ashley Staggs, a guidance counselor at Stevenson Elementary. “I think it just gives them exposure when they’re in their home and the parents are reading to them or they’re reading.”
Staggs said the district’s reading initiative is also having a positive effect on her children, Max and Rose who are in 4th grade and kindergarten, respectively.
“It’s nice to have all those books at home,” she said. “I purchase some books, too, but that collection that Rose has was really, really nice. We read those quite often.”
She said Max preferred to read magazines or nonfiction books, but he read the first Harry Potter book in order to earn a token for the vending machine. That has sparked an interest in reading more fiction books.
“I think Max, he’s really hit a big growth point (in his reading),” Staggs added.
Flener said the district’s focus on literacy is an effort to not only improve reading scores but also to prevent students from falling behind.
“We’re creating a love for literacy in our students that they will carry with them for a lifetime,” he said. “It kind of ties into our vision statement. We’re equipping Panthers for life. When we think about all the ways you can be equipped for life for people who don’t get literacy at the right level, what all the obstacles and hardships they’re going to come across in their life if they don’t gain that skill.
“We’re not going to accept that being like, ‘Well, that’s just the way it is,’ because we want to change the reality for our students.”
Russellville board member Lovis Patterson said she has seen the district’s administrators’ passion for the literacy program.
“I love these book areas they’ve set up with the books and I know for a fact that my nephews and great nephews are enjoying every bit of it and I’m sure that it’s an improvement in literacy in our area, which we have a huge problem in the area,” she said. “And I know these efforts we have started have really, really helped.”Books’ benefits extend beyond reading
Haydon Bird, a fifth-grade student at Stevenson Elementary in Russellville, likes earning tokens to use in the school’s book vending machine because then he can read the book anytime he wants.
Stevenson students are encouraged to read 20 minutes each night at home and Bird said he does that every night, and sometimes he reads even more.
“Research tells us 20 minutes at night, that just really builds kids’ vocabulary,” said Stevenson Principal Robin Cornelius. “With the kids being able to have their own books at home, they can go home and make a connection of what they have done in class.”
Bird even noticed that reading at night helped him in other areas.
“Whenever I started reading the Harry Potter series, after I started reading 20 minutes a night I started writing better, putting in commas and stuff like that,” Bird said.
Steven Moats, Russellville’s chief academic officer, said better communication and an increase in vocabulary is an important by-product of increased reading.
“Learning the structures through reading helps with oral communication, being able to communicate, whether we’re communicating (orally) or whether trying to communicate through writing, so it impacts all of it,” he said.
In the first semester of having two book vending machines, elementary, middle and high school students earned about 400 tokens, which equates to 400 books from the vending machines.
Two Russellville Middle seventh grade students, Cindy Huang and Anastasia Knight, have accounted for nearly 30 of those tokens. The two have a friendly competition going to see who can earn the most AR points this year.
Huang earned more than 430 points and Knight earned about 350 points through the end of the first semester, and the book vending machine was the motivation to earn the points.
“I really like to read,” Knight said. “It’s kind of changing a bit because when you get to middle school you have to read higher style books and it challenges you to read those higher books and get AR points.”
Knight had earned 13 tokens by mid-December and used them to get books all on the same day. With so many books to get, she asked Huang for some recommendations.
The higher the grade level, the more AR points needed to receive a token.
Fifth-grade student T.K. Darden got a baseball book from the vending machine after earning a token. He was close to earning a second token and said his strategy is reading several smaller books.
Bird employs the opposite strategy by reading Harry Potter books which earn a large number of AR points.
In addition to improving reading skills, Russellville Superintendent Bart Flener said the students are “developing some strategies and decision making” with how to earn the most AR points to get the most books.