Caleb Smith Thompson has made several trips to vending machines for a bag of chips or a cold soda. But when the currency was his own hard work and a new book was on the menu, he took a much longer look before choosing a book on Jacques Cousteau from Zachary Elementary School's new book vending machine.

All the books are new, but no amount of money can buy these titles. The third graders and fourth graders, like Caleb, the Student of the Year, must earn the privilege to choose and keep the books. Points are accumulated until a student earns a “golden token" that is the vending machine's only form of payment.

The vending machine is manufactured by Global Vending Group out of Buffalo, New York. They provide traditional vending products, but they have combined learning and vending with their line of machines that hold books.

The book product is called an Inchy’s Bookworm Vending Machine. It works by rewarding kids for good behavior, good grades and good attendance. “We believe that the combination of vending books and your own personalized reward system could bridge the gap between literacy and engagement,” the group said on its corporate website. ”We are proud for utilizing our resources and directing them towards literacy for all students. This program is a great way we can prepare children for the future.”

Principal Keisha Thomas expected the vending machine in January, but it came early and was wrapped and presented to the student body as a joint Christmas present. “They told us that we would get the delivery in December; so, we decided to go ahead and introduce it to the students right before we got out for Christmas,” she said. “It's like a school Christmas present. And the students were quite excited about it.”

Having students excited about reading and learning is a gift to the faculty and staff. “It is amazing how quickly they go to the machine,” Thomas said. “They don't study; it's like they just automatically know ‘I want this book.’ ”

Thomas heard about the book vending machines a couple of years ago and she has been researching the machines and how to incorporate it into the school ever since. “The beginning of this school year, we decided, as we were thinking about our PBS plan, which is our positive behavior incentive plan, and different things that we could incorporate into the school setting,” she said. “I decided to go ahead and get the book vending machine for the students to improve their love for reading, but also just as a positive reinforcement and something different that they can look forward to selecting when they are meeting various instructional goals, as well as just whether it's good behavior, or even in the classroom.”

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs and the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. It is an evidence-based, three-tiered program to bolster learning and use practices that can improve student outcomes on an everyday basis. “The PBS is positive behavioral support systems, and that can range from behavior, academics, or even school wide thing,” Thomas said. “From behavioral standpoints, we're looking at where students meet certain goals and we're also looking at academic goals — whether it's reading goals, math goals or it could be something in science and social studies.”

Thomas noted that her staff is looking for ways to provide positive reinforcement in and outside of the classroom. “A faculty or staff member can observe a student arriving on campus, at dismissal, or whatever it may be and think they deserve some recognition or a token for the machine,” she said. “So we didn't want to just limit it to like reading goals. Because it was for books, we wanted to incorporate any goal that students would meet to have the opportunity to receive a book.”

Zachary Elementary students are on a points-earning system. Teachers are assigning points that accumulate until the golden token has been earned. The books are fiction and nonfiction, and cover a variety of topics and disciplines because the staff wanted to make sure the rewards were not just related to reading goals. Students can express diverse interests with their book choices. “We're going to do it on a rotation cycle and after so many weeks, we'll swap them out, put new books in it,” Thomas said. “At the end of this year, we may even do some type of survey with our students for book suggestions.”