J.B. Stephens promotes love and excitement for reading

It was a red carpet event at J.B. Stephens Elementary School, and the cheers and laughter were contagious as students celebrated the arrival of a new vending machine that dispenses books instead of candy.

In one of many initiatives at Greenfield-Central’s elementary schools to promote literacy, children eagerly anticipated their names being called for the sweet reward of choosing their next great read.

Kennedy Sonsini was the first of her class to walk down the red carpet and choose a book. She picked “Be Positive,” and the entire second grade student body cheered as the book dropped to its new owner.

She said afterward that she plans to show it to her classmates.

“Since everyone should be positive, I think I can share this book with everyone so they can be positive,” Kennedy said.

That’s exactly the kind of reaction Principal Amy Sutton was going for this year– not only the positive vibe, but also an excitement and joy in reading.

“There are so many books!” said Evelyn Tucker, who had a hard time choosing.

Sutton spearheaded the initiative to bring the machine to the school, after seeing a lot of success with a similar book vending machine at Greenfield Intermediate School. A fundraiser in February had students dancing for pledges and donations, and their supporters were not only the Greenfield community but friends and family from across the country, from Texas to Alaska.

They raised $10,000 for the machine, a special Greenfield-Central graphic design, and plenty of books. The machine is specially designed to hold larger picture books for young readers, as well as chapter books with fictional stories, and even nonfiction books filled with graphics of science and engineering.

There was a lot of buzz all spring in anticipation of the machine’s arrival. The goal is to get every student to eventually use it with coins as a reward for positive behavior. The “wow” factor– the machine even talks. 

Sutton is pleased to tell students that the book they select is for keeps. They don’t have to return it like a library book. 

In the final weeks of the school year, each grade level gathered for an unveiling event where names were randomly selected to be the first to use the machine.

“There are so many books!” sad Evelyn Tucker, who had a hard time choosing. 

Scott Hoagland, C-shift battalion chief for Greenfield Fire Territory, read to a group of kindergarten students “The Story of Sparky the Fire Dog” at Community Read Aloud Day in April.

Ashton Jones and Rich Fikani both picked a basketball fiction story– sports fans. Ellis Hamner selected a book all about weather. He immediately cracked it open when he sat back down with his friends, showing off all of the graphics and pictures on the pages.

The new vending machine isn’t the only book-friendly program at the school on Greenfield’s east side. Earlier this spring, J.B. had its annual Community Read Aloud Day where visitors from across Hancock County read to the children. There were firefighters, school administrators, healthcare professionals, soccer club leaders and more.

Walking around the school in April as visitors arrived every 30 minutes to read to a classroom, Sutton said she’s grateful to have so many people from the community step up to share a love of learning with children. Community helpers shared about their jobs. Reading therapy dogs softly snuggled next to reluctant readers.

“Literacy is in everything that we do,” Sutton said, adding that they want to ensure each class of students is ready for the next grade level of reading and that all students are proficient readers by the third grade.

Superintendent Dr. Harold Olin said he was honored to be asked to read a book to Mrs. King’s third grade class. He said it provided an opportunity to model the importance of reading, and had him connecting with students on a deeper level.

Devon Marine, director of elementary education for G-C schools, said the book vending machine and Community Read Aloud Day are both great examples of the positive culture and love of literacy at J.B. Stephens Elementary School.

Ellis Hamder cracked open his book about weather immediately after winning it from the book vending machine at J.B. Stephens Elementary School.

“It was a great event that allowed visitors into the classrooms to model how important reading is, even as an adult,” Marine said. “Fluent reading is a skill that opens so many doors throughout high school and beyond.”

The  book vending machine is in a highly-visible part of the school– near the front door– and promotes an excitement for reading, he added. They’re able to select whatever book interests them and bring it home. 

“Being able to put books in the hands of students in this manner helps ignite the joy of reading,” Marine said. “J.B. Stephens aims to promote a culture of reading, where a love of reading becomes ingrained in students.” 

By Maribeth Vaughn
Kennedy Sonsini picks “Be Positive” to share with her classmates last week at an unveiling event of the new book vending machine at J.B. Stephens Elementary School.