Cambridge Primary School looks to encourage reading one book at a time

Dairy Queen owner James Fowler stands next to the book vending machine his restaurant’s “Blizzard Brigade” paid for at Cambridge Primary School.

According to statistics from the National Literacy Trust, children who possess books read 22% above their expected grade level. Conversely, students who do not have books are at 3% below grade level. Finally, 56.2% of book-owning children report that they enjoy reading.

With those statistics in mind, Cambridge Primary School has made it its quest to make sure every single student has the opportunity to own at least one book before the end of this school year.

According to CPS Principal Rhonda Malecha, the school has always had a strong connection with the community in regard to encouraging kids to read. 

“We have guest readers — every fall we have football players that come in and read to our students,” Melacha said during a presentation before the Cambridge-Isanti School Board. “It’s kinda fun because we have teachers who have had those players in their classroom (as students).”

Additionally, they frequently offer buddy reading and library visits.

Just recently, though, they’ve been given the opportunity to amplify their mission, again thanks to community involvement. For several years now, Melacha has had her eye on a book vending machine.

“Imagine going to get a candy bar, but this time you are going to get a book,” Melacha explained.

Thanks to a very successful fundraising event and a grant, that vision has now become a reality. Last March, the Cambridge Dairy Queen held a “Blizzard Brigade,” where all of the proceeds from one day’s worth of Blizzard sales were donated to the school. The event paid for the vending machine. In addition, the school received a $3,000 Operation Round Up Grant from East Central Energy, which went towards keeping books in stock. Plus, Dairy Queen has already offered to hold another “Blizzard Brigade” next March, with that money going to restocking the vending machine.

But it didn’t stop there. The school partnered with Scout & Morgan owner Judith Kissner, who has ordered books that physically fit into the vending machine. She also helped choose authors that are interesting to the students.

Melacha said they initially covered the vending machine with a box and asked students to guess what was behind the box.

“Some thought it was playground equipment, some thought it was all sorts of things,” Melacha said.

Once it was officially unveiled, each classroom was given the opportunity to “purchase” one book so the kids could see how to use the vending machine. Next, each teacher was given instructions to find one positive attribute of each of their students and to award them with a token that only fits in the vending machine.

And the students have reacted very positively to this program. 

“I have to clean off the glass every now and then because of noseprints,” stated CPS Academic Coach Trina Godfrey.

“They like to look into it to see what books are different,” Melacha added. “‘Well, that book wasn’t there yesterday, so someone must have picked the first one.’”

“We’ve had at least 20 kids receive books and all classrooms have books,” Godfrey said. “And we’re actually running out of the larger books that fit in the upper left corner (of the vending machine). It’s a good problem to have.”

Melacha said that once the goal of one book for every student is achieved, the school will hold some sort of celebration.

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