Kiwanis Club of Charlevoix Board President Gail Gennett holds an oversized pair of scissors as she speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony in October for a new book vending machine at Charlevoix Elementary School.

People Fund helps Charlevoix school dispense literacy

Kiwanis Club of Charlevoix Board President Gail Gennett holds an oversized pair of scissors as she speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony in October for a new book vending machine at Charlevoix Elementary School.

Book vending machine has students going for the gold

Members of the Kiwanis Club of Charlevoix and a Charlevoix Elementary School student gather in front of the vending machine following the October ribbon cutting ceremony

There are few things parents like more than hearing from other adults that their child was “as good as gold.” Now, thanks to the efforts of the Kiwanis Club of Charlevoix, students at Charlevoix Elementary School actually get something golden as a reward for the good things they do at school.

In October of 2022, the club provided a book vending machine to the school that is already paying off in many ways.

The program works like this: Teachers, support staff, bus drivers, and other staff at the school are provided with golden tokens to give students as a reward for achieving good grades, good attendance, good behavior, or just generally being a good person. Students can then visit the book vending machine where they can redeem the token for a book. The machine only accepts the tokens, not real money.

From idea to implementation

A student selects a book from the vending machine

Kiwanis Club of Charlevoix Board President Gail Gennett said the idea for the vending machine came from club secretary Rita Moore, who saw a similar project on a local news broadcast while she was visiting family in Portland, Ore. Gail said Rita called her right away suggesting it would be a great project for the Charlevoix club.

In April Great Lakes Energy’s People Fund awarded a $1,000 grant to help fund the project. That money was combined with money raised by the club itself, Kiwanis International, the Charlevoix County Community Foundation, and private donors to pay for the machine, books, and tokens.

Gail said the vending machine is stocked with books selected by the school’s librarian and staff at the Charlevoix Public Library. Each student was provided with one token initially to spur interest in the program. Tokens are also provided through the school’s student of the week program. The goal is for each student to get at least three books over the course of the school year.

“Beyond that, a student might get a coin for anything from befriending a fellow student who is having a bad day to meeting a classroom goal that a teacher has set,” Gail said.

Positive returns

Gail said the feedback she’s heard about the vending machine from school staff and parents has been overwhelmingly positive and thankful.

“I’ve been stopped many times at the grocery store by parents who are very grateful for the program,” Gail said. “I’ve even had parents tell me that their child is doing better in school or is excited about going to school thanks to the program.”

She said the program offers benefits in many ways beyond serving as a simple reward for good behavior. In addition to fostering excitement for reading among students by offering a book as a reward, Gail also pointed to the program’s positive social and mental health benefits.

Reading between the lines

Gail, who has a background in both education and serving as a counselor, said many schools are seeing that the limitations on in-person interactions during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a noticeable impact on social skill development for some children. By encouraging a positive social environment at school, the book reward program can also help improve students’ emotional and mental wellbeing, Gail said.

Charlevoix Elementary School Principal John Haan said the book vending machine has been an “amazing” addition to the school.

“We’re very grateful for the support of the Kiwanis Club and GLE’s People Fund. Our kids and our teachers are extremely enthusiastic about it,” he said. “Our kids already love books and reading and the book vending machine adds even more energy and excitement to our literacy program.”

John added that research has shown that giving children books and getting them excited about reading is a significant factor in them becoming readers.

John said the school is still raising money to help supply the book vending machine. Anyone wishing to contribute to the effort may do so by contacting the school office at (231) 547-3215 or by sending contributions to Kiwanis Youth Foundation P.O. Box 275 Charlevoix, MI 49720.

Kiwanis is ‘kid-focused’

Founded in 1934, the Kiwanis Club of Charlevoix is a very active club. On average club members provide nearly 400 hours of community service work per month. The book vending machine is just one example of the many child-focused programs the organization supports.

Some other examples of programs the club sponsors include a fifth grade essay contest, volunteering with the Headstart Reading program, St. Mary’s Builders Club, AKTION Club, Boy Scouts, scholastic scholarships, and many more. The club raises money for its many community efforts by selling hot dogs and kielbasas at many community festivals, selling maple syrup and holiday nuts, hosting an AppleFest Fun Run, and this past December the group hosted its first-ever German holiday-themed Christkindlmarket.

“Kiwanis is all about kids,” Gail said. “That’s why I joined 35 years ago.”

 

The club meets at noon every Tuesday at the Charlevoix Senior Center, located at 13513 Division St, in Charlevoix. The senior center is in Charlevoix County’s Shirley Roloff Center, which was formerly the Charlevoix Elementary School building. Gail invites anyone interested in learning more about the club or joining to call her at (231) 330-1076. More information about the Kiwanis Club of Charlevoix is also available online at charlevoixkiwanis.com or on the organization’s Facebook page.

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