ASHLAND Right in the middle of the Hager Elementary School library, where there are hundreds of books ready for kids to check out with no obligation beyond returning them on time, sits a vending machine stuffed with — more books.

To get a book from the machine, a student first has to be chosen by a teacher to earn a high-five good-character award and then be the winner of a drawing of high-five awardees. If that happens, librarian Kelsey Price hands the child a special token to put in the coin slot and choose a book.

Asking children to earn a book where there are shelves full of free ones can be a powerful motivational tool, Price believes.

“It shows them how important reading is. If they are willing to work to read a book, it shows they’re learning to love reading," she said.

That is why she set out this spring to get the Bookworm vending machine, which is identical to a snack vending machine except with special graphics.

Price thought it would take months, if not more than a year, to get enough money to buy it, but Hager got the machine after a resoundingly successful three-week fundraiser.

And on Monday it got its first real workout when second-grader Aubrey Sammons dropped one of the shiny golden tokens in the slot, pushed a couple of buttons and watched a copy of "Diary of a Pug" drop into the chute.

Aubrey had received her high-five for showing a sense of responsibility, exhibited by completing all her first-week assignments on time and getting them 100% correct, second-grade teacher Sierra Sparks said.

The motivation factor was strong because Aubrey is a book lover, according to her mother, Tiffany Rowe. "She takes very good care of her books. Her brother is not allowed to touch them," Rowe said.

Price expected donations to buy the machine would trickle in but after her plan was featured in a Daily Independent newspaper story, donors flooded her with money — enough to reach her goal of about $5,000 for the machine and a stock of books.

Now she has enough books to last the year — once Hager’s Accelerated Reader program gets going, she will award book tokens to children who get at least 100 AP points. Accelerated Reader is a reading comprehension program in which children read books and then take a quiz to show how well they grasped the contents.

The bonanza of donations, form parents, businesses, and even community members who don’t have children, sends her a message. “It tells me our reading program is supported, not only by parents but by the community.”

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