Northside Elementary unveils book vending machine after a year-long delay

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer

Last week, Northside Elementary unveiled its new book vending machine, becoming just the second school in the state of Minnesota to feature a vending machine guided towards reading.

The book vending machine was originally supposed to be revealed last year, but due to a shipping error and the oncoming COVID-19 pandemic, the plans were postponed.

"As we were talking about I Love To Read Month last year in February, John Becker sent me an article from KELOLAND in Sioux Falls and there was a school that had just unveiled a book vending machine," said Northside Principal Liam Dawson. "And so we brought that up to our leadership team at first and then to my PAC committee."

The PAC committee loved the idea, and the groundwork was laid out. Dawson reached out to Global Vending Group and gave them the specs for the logo of the school, and the group returned a design that Dawson says "was awesome."

"They said you provide the books, and we give you a bunch of gold tokens that kids can earn for whatever reason the school decides, and the kids get a free book," said Dawson. 

For the past year, Northside teachers have had to keep the celebration a secret. The vending machine has been out in the hallways recently, but students weren't aware of what it was until Wednesday.

"Kids have seen it, they just have had no idea what it's been this year. The kids were pumped. The four kids who were selected were like 'wait, I get to keep this book for free? I don't have to give it back?' Just that whole joy of them getting to select the book that they wanted." 

Luke Alphs, who was the golden token award winner for last year's I Love To Read Month, was finally able to cash in his golden token for a book along with three other students.

Students can earn gold tokens through the school's Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) program, students can earn a Saints power ticket from any adult in the building who sees a student going above and beyond. Two names are pulled from each grade level each week as a winner and given the opportunity to spin a wheel, where one of the eight slices on the wheel is a golden coin to use for the vending machine.

Other options on the wheel are various types of Saints gear, popcorn for their class, a chance to read with or play Dawson in various board games—particularly cribbage—or Monday morning dance break.

"The biggest thing with this is that it's getting more high-interest books into kids' hands," said Dawson. "The other great thing too is that four of the slots are bilingual or in Spanish. So, again, that's going to get high-quality books and access for students who speak Spanish at home and allows that opportunity for them to go home and read to parents and siblings as well."

Books range from fiction to non-fiction, including high-interest graphic novels series such as "Dog Man" and "I Survived," as well as non-fiction biographies. Picture books are also available for younger-aged students.

Dawson checked in with Jill Stark at the Northside library to see which books were being checked out the most in order to put those books inside the vending machine.

"This was just another way to instill the love of reading in an exciting way. But with that, it's a novelty piece."

Cottonwood was the first school in the state to have a book vending machine, which they ordered two months prior to Northside. 

This year, Northside will be holding I Love To Read Month in April.