Arlington Elks Boost Vocab

Merriam-Webster’s defines dictionary, as ‘a reference source in print or electronic form containing words usually alphabetically arranged’…But Arlington third graders already know exactly what a dictionary is.

For the third consecutive year, third graders in both public and parochial schools have received their own dictionaries from the Arlington Elks.

That means about 450 Arlington students received one of the bright yellow, softbound dictionaries this year.

Last Friday, Arlington Elks Arthur Edgecomb, Bill Copithorne and Frank Fitzgerald brought a box of dictionaries to pass out at the Peirce Elementary School.

For Edgecomb, a retired Chelmsford middle school teacher, the dictionary project is an opportunity to get back in front of a class of students.

‘I have this set routine,’ Edgecomb said before going into the first of two third-grade classrooms.

In the class, Edgecomb takes over, pontificating on the importance of reading and the value of dictionaries.

‘If you can’t read, you can’t do anything,’ said Edgecomb, with the voice and timing of a stage actor.

Edgecomb made a pun, confounding the meaning of the word ate with the number eight.

A former math teacher, Edgecomb would ask the children a simple math question that added up to eight and then pretend that they asked him what he had for breakfast.

Fitzgerald and Copithorne stayed off to the side for most of Edgecomb’s routine and helped him pass out the books.

Edgecomb instructed the students to look up the word exalted, without tipping them off to how it’s spelled.

At the Elks lodge, Fitzgerald has the title of Exalted Ruler. Around town, the students who have received the reference books know the three Elks as the dictionary guys.

Funding for the dictionary donations came in equal parts from the local lodge and the national order.

The books come from The Dictionary Project, a non-profit organization that began in Charleston, S.C., in 1995 and has delivered dictionaries to more than 7.8 million children, according to its Web site.

The project has been delivering books to third graders in Arlington for three years now, which means the first class of recipients are now in the fifth grade.

And Arlington students, for the most part, are already well above the rest of the state in their reading and writing abilities.

Though two Arlington schools were identified by the state for improvement in specific categories, the state gave Arlington an overall very high performance rating for English language arts, the highest rating a district can receive. That rating is based on the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education, which uses MCAS scores to calculate adequate yearly progress within each school and within the district. The district has a high performance rating for math.

The only public school not to receive an overall very high performance rating in English was Thompson Elementary School, which received a high rating, the second best possible.

According to a survey by the Boston Globe, three of Arlington’s seven elementary schools – Brackett, Bishop and Stratton – ranked in the top 5 percent of MCAS scores in third grade English, and three – Hardy, Bishop and Brackett – ranked in the top 5 percent for fourth grade English. All but Hardy made it into the top 10 percent for fifth grade English, according to the Globe.

For the Elks, the dictionary project is a way to give Arlington students another step up and a chance to help root for the organization that has its lodge on the shore of Spy Pond.

‘There’s a lot more going on at the Elks Lodge than some people want to give us credit for,’ said Edgecomb.