INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — A new type of vending machine was just unveiled at Independence Primary School. But this vending machine doesn't dispense snacks or drinks, instead, it is full of books.
The machine was gifted to the young students as a gift from the Independence PTO group.
"I was so excited about this that I was like... freaking out!" Bryan Swansiger, a third-grade student exclaimed. "Food and drinks I thought that was the only kinds of vending machines until I heard that there was a book vending machine coming into this school.”
The machine is packed with books for children at various reading levels.
“We have preschoolers here, we have fourth graders here, so we need chapter books, we need early reading books," said Principal TJ Ebert. "And we want to get books in there that kids get excited and want.”
Ebert said the idea was tossed around prior to the pandemic. When the district shifted to remote learning and then to hybrid models last school year, the machine was put on the back burner. But when this school year began, the conversation resurfaced. So school administrators worked hand-in-hand with the PTO to make the machine a reality.
"We pride ourselves on being positive, respectful, dependable and empowered for students. That's our I-Pride pledge," Ebert said. "So we thought this would be perfect with our positive behavior reward program. So not only are we promoting positive behavior, we're promoting reading and literacy as well."
Students have the opportunity to earn a book from the vending machine if they display kind, positive and respectful behavior. They will be awarded a golden ticket for their behavior or act of kindness. Then every month tickets will be drawn at random and each ticket winner is awarded a coveted gold coin to use at the vending machine.
“They want to earn tickets, they want to earn the opportunity to use the machine," Ebert said. "When we see kids excited to read, that means we've done our job. If we can have a resource like this and our PTO supports it and we can all work together to bring this to our school to promote reading then it's great. It's great to see our students' excitement."
This is the kind of solution desperately needed in Northeast Ohio.
According to data from The Literacy Cooperative, more than half of adults in Cuyahoga, Lorain, Portage and Summit counties are less than proficient in literacy.
But Laurie Atkins, the vice president of Strategic Initiatives with Literacy Cooperative, said it goes further than just numbers.
“We really have to look at the community and not just that we have more than half of the individuals not proficient,” Atkins said. “But we really have to break it down even further and say, “Okay, what does that mean? and “What do we need to do as a community to address that?”
Atkins said there are three levels for literacy and numeracy proficiency. Level one means adults may be considered functionally illiterate or innumerate. Level two means they're near proficient. Adults at level three are at proficiency levels or higher.
"It's always important that we address everyone at every level so that they can advance along a career pathway," she said.
Atkins said over the years she has witnessed a lot of effort from various partners and organizations throughout Northeast Ohio to curb these statistics. But added, it's time employers begin integrating literacy and numeracy into job training.
A report recently released by the Literacy Cooperative, revealed 62% of adults at the lowest reading level are employed. So it may be difficult to determine who, in fact, could benefit from literacy and numeracy skill training.
"Everyone can benefit from literacy and numeracy. If we can look at how we can take literacy and numeracy instruction and make it more applicable to the jobs people are doing or training for then that's going to be key so that we're addressing it to everyone. We're making it very inclusive. We're not separating people and saying 'You need this help, and you don't.'"
Therefore, employees at all reading levels could benefit, strengthening today's workforce.
"If an employer can you know help their employee in any way possible advance, they're going to feel the value," she said "They're going to like where they are and they're going to want to stay."
Click here to learn more about The Literacy Cooperative and the programs available for adults and children.