Local schools, United Way partner for book vending machines

Published 12:22 am Tuesday, November 1, 2022

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Four schools in Port Arthur are celebrating the installation of Book Vending Machines as part of the United Way of Mid & South Jefferson County’s Early Literacy Initiative.
It is about placing books, not only in the hands of children, but in the homes of the children, according to United Way CEO Janie Johnson.

“When books are in homes, they can be enjoyed and shared with siblings, cousins and neighbors,” Johnson said. “The book vending machines can be used to reward students meeting reading goals or being good Samaritans.”

The book vending machine investment is one the United Way is proud to have made, totaling $5,000 per machine. The United Way has also committed to restocking the machines at least twice a year for young readers.

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United Way introduced the Early Literacy Initiative in 2019 with Booker T. Washington Elementary accepting the invitation to join the program.

Community Impact Coordinator Priscilla Ochoa is responsible for writing the initial SuperReaders program that supports the Accelerated Reader program through rewards at the end of each grading period.

The program expanded last school year with the Summer Reading Palooza.

Priscilla Ochoa, United Way impact & engagement coordinator and SuperReader Hero; from left, Meagan Thierheimer, librarian; and Dr. Erica Seastrunk, principal are pictured at Staff Sergeant Lucian Adams Elementary School. (Courtesy photo)

The United Way provided backpacks with five books for each first grader at participating schools through the Summer Reading Palooza.

“We are excited to continue the growth of the Early Literacy program,” Ochoa said. “We recently introduced United We Read Story Time through our Facebook and YouTube pages. United We Read Story Time is supported by community members sharing their favorite childhood books to support local families.”

The United Way has offered each elementary in Mid & South Jefferson County the opportunity to participate in the initiative, and four accepted the invitation.

While SuperReaders and Summer Reading Palooza focuses on first graders, the vending machines are for all students on each campus.

Participating schools include Port Arthur ISD’s Washington, Adams, and Houston elementary campuses. The newest addition to the Early Literacy Initiative is Sabine Pass ISD.
“Studies have shown that graduation rates and literacy rates are tied,” Ochoa said. “Reading is a skill that can help us find success and grow with us throughout our lives. Supporting literacy is one of the greatest things we can do to support our youth.”

Early Literacy is one of eight local United Way of Mid & South Jefferson County initiatives. To learn more about United Way initiatives and programs, visit unitedwaymsjc.org.