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Rewarding Good Behavior With Books

Thu, 03/12/2020 - 11:20
Students at John M. Marshall Elementary School are hoping to have a book vending machine soon.
Jack Graves

When asked about their favorite books last week, the members of the fall and winter Leadership Council at John M. Marshall Elementary School all raised their hands simultaneously and began naming title after title in rapid succession.

The "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" books, "Bones," "Crime Biters," the "Percy Jackson" mythology series, the "Amulet" books, graphic novels, and titles by Judy Bloom and Matt Christopher all made the list (which could go on and on, of course). The kids are excited to introduce their peers to their favorites in an unusual way: They have been fund-raising to purchase and install an Inchy's Bookworm Vending Machine at the school.

The vending machine won't accept dollars and coins, however. It will only accept tokens that students can earn from their teachers by demonstrating good behavior, acts of kindness, and positive choices. It falls in line with the school-wide reading initiative, which is to ask students to read for 20 minutes or more each day.

"What I want is for kids to get motivated," Ryan Ortiz, a Leadership Council member, said. "I think the vending machine will help. . . . I'm hoping to see kids lined up at the machine."

After the group decided it would sell school-spirit magnets to raise money, Jackson Carney, another member, had the idea to sell them during East Hampton High School varsity basketball games.

"My favorite part is you'll get to choose your book -- we don't all have to read the same one," Jackson said. "They're all going to be good books."

Lilah Brown hopes the books will be different from those in the school library. "This is motivating kids to have good behavior," she said.

The students have raised about $310 through selling magnets and charging teachers and staff $5 each for "jeans days" at school, allowing them to dress casually. So far, they have raised $310 of the approximately $3,000 needed to buy the vending machine, but they expect they'll have enough money by May.

The project is also supported by the Greater East Hampton Education Foundation, which provides grants for projects, supplies, and equipment for local schools. The Leadership Council members filled out the grant paperwork themselves.

Jeff Tupper, a teacher who is a co-advisor of the Leadership Council and also a board member of the Education Foundation, said the students' initiative has "overwhelming support" from the foundation. "They are looking forward to seeing it as part of the school community," Mr. Tupper said. "These kids are true leaders of the school."

"The whole idea has really taken off," added Kaitlin Fink, another teacher and co-advisor of the Leadership Council.

Maya Dias, a council member, said she didn't find reading interesting until this opportunity was presented to the group by Russell Morgan, the assistant principal. "Now, it will be exciting to get tokens and get a book of your choice," Maya said. "It's not like it costs money -- just kindness and cooperation."

Emmanuel Gomez, a spring Leadership Council member, and Emilia Brauer and Colton Everett are drawing colorful ideas for the design of the graphics and appearance of the vending machine, which is custom to each school. "I've always loved reading and I think this is a very exciting experience," he said.

He called the vending machine "our legacy."

As they sold the magnets, the kids have been learning a lot about communication, presentation, teamwork, and persuasion, and even rejection, when someone declines to buy a magnet.

"Along the way, I learned you have to be brave to sell the magnets. It's kind of hard to go up to an adult," said Andrew Perez.

Indeed, Mr. Morgan said, "A big part of this is to challenge their inhibitions a little bit. I am so proud of them."

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