MARICOPA — Maricopa Elementary School is seeking a new and unusual vending machine to help encourage young minds to pick up a good book.

Vending machines remain a staple at most schools in the nation. The novelty of feeding coins into a machine and receiving something, whether that be a bag of chips, a pack of gum or a yo-yo, has endured since the vending machine’s inception in the late 1800s. In the 21st century, kids regularly return to vending machines for the serotonin boost of inserting pocket change and being rewarded with a treat.

Maricopa Elementary School is hoping to capitalize on this by introducing a vending machine that spits out books instead of snacks, called Inchy’s Bookworm Vending Machine. The vending machine will also use golden tokens instead of money, which can be earned by MES’s kindergarten through fifth grade students by exhibiting good behavior.

“It's one more way to instill a love of reading,” said Mishell Terry, spokeswoman for Maricopa Unified School district, “and what an incredible opportunity — that we find these innovative products that just engage kids and start to get them excited about reading.”

Stephanie Score, Parent Teacher Organization president and MES behavioral specialist, said the vending machine will serve the dual purpose of getting kids excited about reading while also allowing them to grow their personal collection of books at home.

“I am personally excited about seeing the kids step up their positive behavior and be excited about reading at the same time,” Score said. “(It’s exciting) being able to see the positive behavior trends go up and them wanting to work for something, and then they actually have something tangible that they get to take home and read. Hopefully (they) become lifelong readers.”

The books dispensed by the machine are for students to take home and keep. MES is designated for services from the federal Title I program, and Score said that many MES students do not have reading materials at home. Reading just 20 minutes a night can increase a scholar’s reading scores by 75%.

MES is using the PBIS model for students, which stands for positive behavioral interventions and supports. The system uses a multitiered framework to address behavioral concerns at different levels of intervention depending on the child. Thankfully, the Bookworm Vending Machine is already designed to work with the PBIS system.

“There are over 20,000 schools nationwide in 44 states currently implementing school-wide PBIS programs,” Global Vending Machine’s website states. “With Inchy the Bookworm’s PBIS system, students are rewarded one-of-a-kind tokens which they use at the machine to choose a book of their choice. The school faculty rewards students with tokens for following the guidelines of their PBIS reward system.”

The elementary school is still in discussion on how it would operate the token system, but Score anticipates using a student action team to help develop the criteria. Initially though, the school just wants to generate interest and excitement for the vending machine and award tokens via a positive behavioral referral.

The vending machine has already been a hit at schools across the nation, but it comes with a price tag the district is still trying to cover. One Inchy’s Bookworm Vending Machine will run the district $6,567, and it will also need to eventually purchase the books to go inside the vending machine as well as the tokens kids can use. While the vending machine comes with 100 tokens, MES is looking to eventually have enough for two to each student.

“Hopefully throughout the year at least one for every kid, but I mean, double that would be awesome,” Score said. “Our population is over 700 at the moment, so ideally around 1,500.”

The PTO has committed to purchasing the first round of books for the students as well as these extra tokens at $50 for every 100. However, the full cost of the machine still needs funding. MUSD has set up a Donors Choose page for those interested in funding this vending machine, which is similar to GoFundMe.

The machine will be customized to fit the needs of MES specifically, and the PTO is working with Global Vending Group to ensure it’s made correctly.

“There's different ways to format your vending machine,” Score said. “I formatted it for K through five, so you have those picture books, then you have your easy readers, and then you have those chapter books.”

Future books will also need to be donated or purchased for the school to maintain the vending machine. The PTO is looking into book donations through companies like the United Methodist Higher Education Foundation, but it is also seeking community support for new books.

If MUSD meets the funding goal before the 2021-22 school year, the vending machine will make its debut with the start of school in fall 2021. The location is to be determined, but the school is considering the library or cafeteria — anywhere where students frequent and have tokens to spend.

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Katie Sawyer covers Maricopa and the surrounding area for PinalCentral, including city, education, business, crime and more. She can be reached at ksawyer@pinalcentral.com.