KENILWORTH, NJ – The Harding Elementary PTO and first-grade teacher Leslie Bedford are thrilled to bring a book vending machine to the school and looking for student artists to help design it. Mrs. Bedford coordinated the project, and the PTO is sponsoring it. “It will take about twelve weeks for the vending machine to come, but once it does it will be loaded up with books” Mrs. Bedford explained. “When we get back to school each teacher will come up with a way for a child in her class to earn a magic gold coin to redeem books. In the meantime, we are looking for those art submissions to decorate.”

The idea for the vending machine came about from Kenilworth Superintendent Kyle Arlington who read an article about a school that had one. He forwarded the article to Mrs. Bedford and she reached out to the Harding School PTO who she says has been very kind and generous to her ideas in the past. “They have purchased carts for science kits, help fund the supplies to paint the whole school interior walls to look like a gameboard with characters from favorite stories, and funded yearly assemblies. Well, the year went on and it got pushed farther down the infamous to-do list. Then we went into quarantine.”

Once the school year ended Mrs. Bedford began to regroup from the virtual learning experience. She looked through her to-do list and decided to research further how to make the book vending machine happen. “I called a wonderful man named Ken at Global Vending who could not be more helpful or cheerful during a pandemic. After getting a price, I reached out to Mr. Arlington, Mrs. Murphy our principal, and Mr. Bubnowski our vice principal, to ask if I could pursue it with the PTO.” 

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Mrs. Bedford then contacted PTO President Mrs. Colon, and Vice President Mrs. Bonacchi to see if it would be possible to repurpose the money that would normally be spent on assemblies, that could not happen this year due to the pandemic. “The cost of the vending machine was almost exact to what they usually budget for the assemblies. They jumped on it.”

One of the great aspects of the machine, besides kids earning gold coins to get books Mrs. Bedford said is that “you can personalize the artwork and wrap it on to reflect the school.” This was the catalyst to have an art contest. “We wanted to try something positive, exciting, and of course tied to reading to help everyone through this difficult time. Hopefully, it will get kids excited about coming back to school.” The contest was launched via social media to solicit entries and a video was made with further details that can be seen on the Harding PTO Facebook page at this link  https://bit.ly/323CiJp.

The Rivera and Singleton family helped to create the video. Harding students Devin Singleton, Carly, and Adriana Rivera, who will be entering second grade, and Olivia Rivera who will be a first-grader participated as actors.

All Harding students are encouraged to submit their original artwork and should be related to Harding or reading. Submissions can be sent to Leslie_Bedford@kenilworthschools.com and are due August 21. Voting will take place from August 24 through September 2, and winners will be announced the first week of school.