Rewarding positive behavior with reading

Durham Middle School receives book vending machine


Rachel Blake

Durham’s school librarian Brian Harvey looks at the selection of books in the vending machine.

Good behavior isn’t typically rewarded, only seen as something to be done out of courtesy. Durham Middle School found a way to promote reading and education to students who show good behavior in a new way. On Monday, March 25, Ashley Stowers, the dad of an eighth grader who attends DMS and the owner of BEST vending machine company, graciously donated a machine worth $1,000.

“I wanted to do something for the school that I had expertise in,” Stowers said. “My son has special needs [and] the machine donation was my way of saying thank you for all [the staff’s] support.”

Stowers customized the machine to fit tokens distributed by the school instead of the normal cash and coins. Although the extra modifications to the vending machine were expensive, Stowers paid for it in full with only one promise the school needed to keep: stock the machine with books.

“The response was awesome,” Stowers said. “I started a book donation program on Facebook to get the machine filled for the first time. The books are coming in at a steady pace from other school libraries and connections [from Durham’s librarian].”

The middle schoolers are given tokens from teachers or administrators to pick out books of their choice, not from the library shelf but the machine.

“The students have been really curious and excited,” Durham’s librarian Brian Harvey said. “They’ve been asking how they get their name on the list to select a book [and] when their name will be called.”

Creating a reward for students who behave well and finish their Silent Sustained Reading books was Durham’s principal Gary Holt’s center of attention; he wanted to give students books to continue their learning journey that are free and for them to keep.

“We believe reading is a foundational cornerstone to lifelong learning,” Holt said. “It is an essential skill required for 21st-century learners.”

DMS is reaching beyond initial expectations, encouraging students to focus on reading and the beneficial skills they can develop from it. Attending to any student’s favorite genre or level of reading, Stowers has started a new ripple effect of learning.

“In this day and age, books have become secondary to the internet,” Stowers said. “Having access to a reward you can take home and read with your family, flip through pages and look at illustrations is priceless. Reading is knowledge, adventure, emotion and excitement all bound up together. The mind is limitless in a book.”