Willow School students Carter Casey and Ava Deguilio were the first to test out the school’s new vending machine Tuesday morning, Oct. 17.
But the pair did not have the usual vending machine fair — no sodas, no candy. Instead, Inchy’s Bookworm Vending Machine gave them an array of new books to choose from. Carter selected “Fly Guy’s Big Family” by Tedd Arnold. Ava chose “Pugicorn” by Matilda Rose, illustrated by Tim Budgen.
Other students will soon be able to use the vending machine by purchasing tokens with Willow Wows they earn with good behavior.
Willow School Principal Melissa Lawson said the Wows program has been in place for about 15 years to “catch students doing something good” and reward that behavior to reinforce it and provide an example to other students.
She said students earn Willow Wows by simple acts of caring for others, maybe helping another student tie a shoe or loaning a pencil to a student who lost theirs.
At a ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday, PTA President Amanda Weichinger said Past President Meredith Thetford was the driving force behind the vending machine project.
The PTA purchased the machine for about $5,000, and District 153 pitched in $1,200 to cover the cost of shipping and modifications necessary to serve large picture books favored by Willow’s young readers, Thetford said. The book credits that the PTA earned during its recent Scholastic Book Fairs were used to fill the machine with books.
PTA fundraising chair Erica Van Schaik said the Scholastic program probably would be the source for replenishing the machine when the supply of books gets low.
Thetford was unable to attend the dedication but said later that she had first started looking into the possibility of obtaining a book vending machine in November 2019. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools in March 2020, so the idea was shelved for a while.
“I’m hopeful it will bring a lot of joy to a lot of kids,” she said. “It’s something I would have loved as a kid. I hope it will foster more interest in reading. It’s fun.”
She hopes the PTA will be able to provide a vending machine for James Hart School next. She envisions it offering a variety of items that might appeal to middle school students in addition to books, such things are journals, calculators and drawing supplies.
The organization also launched its Readathon fundraiser in 2020. The fourth annual event will be in February 2024. That program has also helped raise money to support literacy in District 153 schools.
Honor for Willow principal
Weichinger said the PTA was dedicating the vending machine to Lawson, who is retiring at the end of the current school year.
She presented Lawson with a plaque recognizing Lawson’s legacy. It reads, “The Homewood PTA dedicates this book vending machine to Melissa Lawson, whose leadership and vision have helped make Willow School a place where reading and learning thrive.”
“I’m truly honored,” Lawson said. “Willow isn’t about me or what I do. It’s about the community and about the family we have here. It’s about the kids.”
District 153 Board of Education President Shelly Marks attended the ribbon cutting with her grandson, Jonah Marks.
“I’m so excited to introduce this vending machine to Willow School because I think the kids are going to have a blast earning the tokens putting them and watching a book fall out that they get to take home and enjoy,” she said. “And I’m especially delighted that it’s been dedicated to Melissa Lawson, our amazing principal. It really recognizes all she’s done for the school.”
Marks helped Jonah, who she said was a “future Willow Wildcat,” select a book from the machine.
“He picked out a really good book that we can’t wait to go home and read,” she said.
District 153 Superintendent Scott McAlister, Homewood Mayor Rich Hofeld and Trustee Lauren Roman, wearing her PTA hat, were also on hand for the dedication.