New Book Vending Machine Feeds Minds with Stories

Family Connection board members Shelia Williams, Kathy Reese, Laura Croom, coordinator Billie McLendon, Nicole Touchton, Erin Lenz and Justin Gravlee. (Not pictured, Martha Fowler

Students at Seminole County Elementary School strive to make good choices and stay on task to earn ClassDojo points, an evidence-based practice designed to motivate positive behavior and boost social development in children.

This year students have a new reason to get excited about racking up those points, because now they can trade them in for gold tokens to select a reward from a brand-new vending machine provided by Seminole County Family Connection. It’s not your typical vending machine. This one dispenses books that are theirs to keep.

“We hope the anticipation of getting to use the vending machine sparks a new love of reading for students who normally don’t have access to books of their own or don’t enjoy reading,” said Billie McLendon, Seminole County Family Connection coordinator. “This is a way to empower students to use those gold coins in a meaningful way. We’re excited to share storytelling through the endless adventures provided in our book vending machine.”

The Collaborative purchased the vending machine through funds allocated from Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (GA-02), who secured $1.5 million that Georgia Family Connection Partnership (GaFCP) was awarded in October from the U.S. Department of Education to help address learning loss during the pandemic in the district’s 30 counties.

“Because schools were closed and students had limited internet access, the pandemic resulted in lost learning opportunities,” said Bishop. “These funds are being used in Middle and Southwest Georgia to help Georgia Family Connection bridge this gap, so our students get to the reading level they need to be successful in life.”

GaFCP is dispersing to each county in the district $34,000 of the investment over two years, along with support to improve learning loss by focusing on early literacy — a leading indicator for academic achievement, reduced grade retention, higher graduation rates, and enhanced productivity in adult life.

“We’re excited to partner with our local Family Connection Collaborative to sponsor a book vending machine at our school,” said Truette Johnson, Seminole County Elementary School principal.

According to Johnson, the school’s leadership team, media specialist, and grade-level chairs collaborated to come up with a plan that will maximize the use and presence of the vending machine.

“We hope to increase our students’ love of reading and reinforce their behavior expectations at school by providing opportunities for students to earn points through our positive behavior reward systems,” said Johnson. “Students are excited to see the book vending machine in the hallway and are inquisitive on how to earn a book of their own.”

The Collaborative is engaging partners in Seminole County, a Get Georgia Reading Campaign community, to take a whole-community approach in developing, enhancing, and implementing the Campaign’s four-pillar framework to get all children on the path to reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

“The Collaborative table is always essential to meeting our children’s and families’ needs, but in times of crisis, it becomes indispensable,” said GaFCP Executive Director Gaye Smith. “Mental health, housing instability, food access, and other pandemic-related challenges have exacerbated the negative effects brought on by the valuable time our children lost in the classroom during the two years of the pandemic. This strategic investment enables Seminole County Family Connection to utilize local data, decision-making, and partnerships to leverage resources to best meet children’s needs.”

Seminole County Family Connection Collaborative, a Georgia Family Connection Collaborative, serves as the local decision-making body, bringing community partners together to develop, implement, and evaluate plans that address the serious challenges facing Georgia’s children and families. Georgia Family Connection is the only statewide network in the country dedicated to the health and well-being of families and communities, empowering communities in 159 counties to craft local solutions based on local decisions.

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