Harlingen students enjoy vending machine for books

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From left: Leonel Huerta, Gabriella Huerta, Audrina Mendoza and Damian Badillo Bernal stand in front of the new vending machine for books at Stuart Place Elementary. (Travis M. Whitehead/Valley Morning Star)

HARLINGEN — Damian slips a shiny token into the vending machine, pushes a button – and “Thump-ker-plunk-plunk!”

A copy of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” falls to the bottom and into the delightful hands of Damian Badillo Bernal, 9, a fourth grader at Stuart Place Elementary.

Damian and his friends are excited about the new machine standing in the hallway displaying playful titles in bold and dashing colors: “Owl Diaries,” “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates,” and “I Will Surprise My Friend.”

Such titles are guaranteed to grab the attention of anyone passing the machine, which is the first stop, of course, toward a higher purpose – literacy.

“We just launched it the week before last,” said Principal Katy Johnson. “We did it a few days, and it was really exciting to do that. Our kids were so happy.”

Johnson couldn’t say enough about the good work of Librarian Julissa Gomez and her initiative to acquire the machine.

“Our librarian heard about this program, this vending machine rather, and she just thought, ‘We have to have that for our school,’” she said. “We used our scholastic book fair profits for the purchase of the vending machine and our amazing highly-involved PTA supplemented the cost.”

The vending machine cost about $5,000.

It is part of the never-ending journey to develop literacy among generations of students passing through the school’s hallways and classrooms – a journey which Gomez avidly walks with the students.

“This past summer, I challenged our students to complete a Summer Reading Bingo,” Gomez said. “If students completed their bingo card, they were rewarded with a token for our book vending machine. I believe this challenge kept our students reading throughout the summer.”

And it’s keeping them reading through the school year, too.

Just ask Audrina Mendoza, 8, a third grader, who was delighted by the new vending machine and its possibilities.

“I was excited because I love to read books, because it helps you learn,” Audrina said. “It also helps you read fluently.”

Her first book was “Front Desk.”

“It was about this teenager girl who moves to America,” she said.

Students throughout the year will be awarded tokens for books in reward for academic progress, acts of kindness, and other commendable achievements.