Imagine having access to adventure and excitement in entirely different worlds dispensed at the push of a button.
Thanks to the efforts of a group of fifth-grade students at Watson Elementary School in Rockville Centre, their fellow classmates will soon have the opportunity to do just that.
Funded by a grant provided by the RVC Education Foundation, which helps fund new and innovative tools beyond the scope of normal classroom academia, Watson students were able to acquire a brand-new vending machine for books.
Unlike most vending machines, this one does not accept cash. In order to access it, students must obtain a gold coin, which can be awarded as an incentive for acts of kindness, risk-taking, community building, and literacy.
“We got back from the pandemic and there was this general sense of getting kids back into books,” Melissa Rice, a fifth-grade teacher at Watson Elementary, said.
Rice said that after learning about the idea from another school district upstate, she was determined to get one for Watson and approached students with the idea.
She explained the grant proposal process and helped a group of fifth-graders form a committee tasked with writing a proposal explaining how they plan to launch the new vending machine.
“I turned the whole thing over to them,” Rice said. “They planned the rollout. They are the ones pushing it into the classrooms and talking about it with the kids.”
First, in order to encourage other students to participate, each of the 11 students on the committee — Hudson Farish, Lily Twomey, Maggie O’Keefe, Sophia Turk, Emma Ferrari, Henry Larom, Ben Yin, Izzy Fuentes, Abigail Mann, Annie Reilly, and Meghan Walsh — were tasked with speaking to students at different grade levels and presenting them with the concept.
Watson Principal Jennifer Pascarella said that students then spoke before the entire faculty and staff to present their proposal, which she said was executed “flawlessly.”
“When we chose the vending machine it was very important that we had it be inclusive of all the grade levels,” Pascarella said. “The books are different sizes, so it mattered.”
Each week Rice and two of the committee members open the machine and help replenish it with new books. The books vary in difficulty, with picture books closer to the bottom for the younger kids, and more classic reading material up top for the older students.
“Have any of you walked past a vending machine and even if you don’t like anything in it, just want to touch all of the buttons?” Emma Ferrari asked members of the Education Foundation last Friday. “Even if they don’t like reading, they still want to get the book for doing something out of their comfort zone. It’s all about taking risks.”
Students can be rewarded for a variety of different reasons, such as trying out something new, stepping outside of their comfort zone, participating in an act of kindness, or just simply working harder at school.
And everyone, not just classroom teachers, can nominate a student to receive a gold coin by filling out a vending machine card and placing it in the basket at the front of the school.
Committee members will pick five names out of the bucket, each Friday, and announce the winners. The more times a name is in the bucket, the greater the chances of being chosen.
Superintendent Matt Gaven said that he loved the fact that Watson students teamed up with the RVC Education Foundation to help create something that will help encourage students for years to come.
“We often talk about how we want to work together with community organizations,” Gaven said. “This is something that has made everyone benefit. I think if you ask the Ed Foundation members, they love this. But if you ask the children, they say this makes things better here, and I think the teachers would agree.”
Members of the Education Foundation said they were so happy to help facilitate the grant for the vending machine because the program encourages young people to read with a fun and exciting concept created by students, for students.
“We know how much you all love reading and how important books are to you, your school, your teachers, because they wrote this grant for that amazing vending machine,” Mayda Kramer, president of the Education Foundation said. “And the best part about it is that you all get to keep the books and get to build your own library of books at home.”