Language and learning go hand in hand

Third-grade students in four New Mexico counties will reap educational benefits this school year because community members are helping children become better readers and learners.

In early July of each year Grants Fire Chief Robert Hays begins contacting local businesses and individuals. These conversations are the initial steps in an on-going book program. For eight years he has spearheaded The Dictionary Project, which seeks donors to provide a dictionary for each third-grade student.

Over time the program has blossomed under Hays’ leadership. It now reaches beyond Cibola schools and into McKinley and Catron Counties. The current goal is to involve Magdalena schools in Socorro County. His personal goal is for every third-grader in the state to receive a dictionary.

Originally a countywide project, it continues to expand and has become a role model for communities as far away as Alabama. Hays recalled that while on a trip there to purchase two fire trucks the Alabama fire department asked about involvement in community projects. He explained the Grants department’s participation in The Dictionary Project, which is a national effort.

Of the 14 dictionary titles available under this nationwide program, the one most often selected by Hays and fellow volunteers is ‘The Best Dictionary for Students.’ It includes a map of the U.S., the parts of speech, punctuation guides, weights and measurements, words for large numbers, Roman numerals, a user’s guide, the alphabet in script plus the 354-page dictionary of English words.

Since its inception the local book drive has provided more than 3,053 third-graders with dictionaries, which they are allowed to keep as they progress through elementary and high school. In 2008 the local group purchased 651 dictionaries for gifts to students. The following year that figure was increased to 810 and the current goal is to boost the amount by an additional 15 percent.

The Dictionary Project has distributed 70,972 dictionaries to students across the state and nationally more than 10 million books have been given away. Each book cover carries the quote: ‘Knowledge is power,’ by Francis Bacon, 1626.

Project sponsors believe that giving children dictionaries is similar to a gift of keys. The books are tools that help them unlock the information gained from reading and make it easier for youngsters to write about what they learn. This encourages young people to share their knowledge with others.

In response to residents’ request, two years ago the local program began providing Spanish/English dictionaries to classrooms as resource materials in addition to the students’ individual books.

The Dictionary Project has been given permission by the Grants/Cibola County School Board to make school presentations at district schools during September and October. Last year Hays gave the school board individual dictionaries and challenged each member to donate their copy to a child not living in the state.

This year he has applied for a Pepsi $25,000 grant in order to bring books to more children. Since July 1 he has ordered 360 dictionaries using the donations from generous community sponsors.The chief encourages anyone interested in this community service project to contact Grants Volunteer Fire and Rescue members. All participants in the book drive will receive equal sponsorship and acknowledgement. Any person, business or organization is welcome to participate in the project. For more information call 876-2245 or visit the national program’s website

National Dictionary Project:

The project is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. The goal is assisting all students in completing the school year as good writers, active readers and creative thinkers by providing them with their own personal dictionary. The dictionaries are a gift to each student to use at school and at home. The Dictionary Project gives 95 cents of every dollar donated toward the purchase of dictionaries.

Reading is the most important skill of all. It is the starting point for economic and social opportunities. Educators have identified third grade as the dividing line between learning to read and reading to learn. Third grade is a crucial time for students to learn to read effectively.

Project sponsors have made efforts to improve literacy and the quality of life in their communities. The Dictionary Project depends on volunteers to help people effect change and improve learning for young people. This dedication results in children better prepared to compete in the global economy as adults.

All school subjects introduce new ideas and new vocabulary to young learners. Donors want to help young people succeed in mastering new levels of learning. Dictionary Project sponsors believe that giving children dictionaries is like giving them sets of keys, which are tools that will unlock all the information there is to be gained from reading and help them write about what they learn so that they can share information with others.

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