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Rewarding positive behavior at Alta View Elementary just got smarter

Dec 04, 2019 10:01AM ● By Julie Slama

Alta View PTA President Emily Montgomery helps a student use the school’s new vending machine to dispense a book that was unveiled at a school assembly. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Second-grader Ellie Antony wondered what was in the large box wrapped up in paper that stood outside the multipurpose room for a couple weeks. Scott Jameson, her principal, made announcements that it would be revealed soon, but still, she said she had no idea.

That is, until Oct. 25, when Jameson, along with Alta View PTA President Emily Montgomery, unveiled a vending machine. But it wasn’t the kind of vending machine where students could put in quarters to get candy or pop; this was the Bookworm Vending Machine.

“I like reading, so it’s a good idea,” Ellie said.

However, there’s more to it than putting a coin in it to get a Scholastic book, she learned. 

The book vending machine is part of the newly unveiled Principal’s Pride program. When faculty and staff notice students following the school’s keys to success — be kind, be engaged, believe in yourself and be safe — they give the student a slip of paper or a key card. Once students accumulate 10 key cards, they can put them in the slotted box. Two names per grade will be selected to either receive a coin for the book machine or to do an activity, such as have an extra 20-minute recess with the principal, Jameson said.

Second-grader Kate Morrison, who would like to get “Fly Guy” or “Sadness” from the book vending machine, thinks it will be a big hit with everyone.

“I like that we can get books and it’s kind of cool watching them drop down,” she said. “It’s fun for the children as well as those who work here. Now we can get books more often than on Thursdays when we go to the (school) library, and we get to keep them forever.”

Jameson said as he was revamping the school’s old positive behavior incentive program, 200 Club, the PTA was looking into purchasing the book vending machine with the $4,000 raised from last year’s fun run.

“The more the Principal’s Pride program got established and the more research they did on the book vending machine, the more we decided the two could work together so students could be rewarded in a positive way,” he said.

Montgomery said she learned about the Bookworm Vending Machine while on Facebook last year and tucked it away as a thought for this year.

“I called every school across the country who has one and asked questions,” she said. “I learned students were more engaged, their reading scores and amount they were reading went up and those who tied it to citizenship, that was getting a boost. Kids are genuinely excited to get to select a book.”

Montgomery said parents also seemed supportive when it was addressed at a recent PTA meeting, approving the budget.

“I was told from other schools, it was the best purchase they’ve ever made for their schools. And when we purchase books at our Scholastic Book Fairs, we receive Scholastic dollars and that money is going right back to our students through purchasing books for our vending machine,” she said.

There are about 20 titles, of different reading levels, for students to choose from, and many come from suggestions made by students, parents and faculty.

Jameson said the selection includes books in Spanish for dual immersion as well as for Battle of the Books. The collection will include picture books for beginning readers to chapter books for more advanced readers.

“We are even looking at hosting some Utah authors and seeing if we can get some autographed books in the vending machine,” he said. “It’s a lot more gratifying to avoid sweets as incentives with a more academic award for students. There’s something motivating for students to earn their reward, be able to put a coin in and choose a book they want. Instead of punishing students for a bad behavior choice, we’re promoting good citizenship, teaching them how to show empathy, appreciating them opening doors for others. We’re teaching them kindness from the beginning and knowing how they will affect themselves and others by learning and practicing these life skills as the mature into adults.”

Montgomery agrees: “We’re motivating our students to be considerate and thoughtful and rewarding them with reading at the same time.”

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