This School’s Vending Machine Drops Knowledge Instead of Sweets

Photo: Getty Images/Vedfelt
When I was in school, the vending machines in the cafeteria offered little more than an assortment of prepackaged snack foods—sodas, candy bars, potato chips. But about 40 miles north of Orlando, in Central Florida, the principal of Umatilla Elementary School has introduced her students to a novel concept. With the addition of a book vending machine, sweet treats have officially been replaced by good reads.

"The idea was to create some excitement around reading and to give students the opportunity to have books they could keep, no just check out from the library to be returned," says UES principal Diane Dwyer. "These are their 'forever books.' They choose the books and take them home."

"These are their 'forever books.' They can choose the books and take them home." —UES principal Diane Dwyer

No need to struggle with a crinkled dollar bill, Umatilla's book vending machine only accepts Bulldog Bucks, school currency honoring the mascot and earned with good behavior or completed assignments. "The majority of our population comes from low-income families, so a lot of times students don't have the opportunity to purchase books that they get to keep for their own," Dwyer tells me. In the first day of operation, the machine sold more than 100 books, and now UES is turning to the community for donations.

Photo: Umatilla Elementary School

A look through the glass of the visionary vending machine reveals titles like Kathryn Lasky's Guardians of Ga'Hoole, Jim Benton's Dear Dumb Diary, and David Adler's Cam Jensen series. "Our media specialist is the one who chooses the books, and she selects each based on popularity of circulation within the media center," says Dwyer. "She knows which books the kids are interested in by the number of books that are checked out." Ultimately, it's the kids who decide which books are worthy of a spot in their personal collections.

With any luck, the installation of a book vending machine at Umatilla Elementary School marks the first of a string of innovative literary dispensaries across the nation. Now more than ever, reading is sweet treat we need!

Wondering what books would go in a vending machine geared toward adult readers? We'd recommend 2019's 10 buzziest wellness releases or these 5 self-development picks from the Well+Good Council

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