Rotarians share the gift of knowledge with schoolchildren

Dictionary Project puts reference books in the hands of local third graders

On Wednesday, third graders at Silver Lake Elementary watched eagerly as volunteers from the Middletown-Odessa Rotary unpacked case after case of dictionaries to give to waiting students. It was the eighth year the Rotary has participated in The Dictionary Project, a nonprofit initiative that strives to make sure every young child has access to this important reference tool so they can become an active reader, good writer and creative thinker.

Most children do not own a dictionary, nor do they have access to one in their home. A dictionary in the home serves as a resource for the whole family. It improves everyone`s vocabulary, and it encourages children to learn more words.

`The dictionary project is a wonderful opportunity to support learning and to demonstrate to young children that our community supports them and values their education,` explained Appoquinimink Superintendent Tony Marchio.

`Our children get really excited about this,` confirmed Silver Lake Principal Dr. Sharon Pepukayi. `Having a reference right there in your hands is important, especially in the third grade, when independent reading, a rich vocabulary and more complex sentence structure is introduced.`

The idea of donating paperback copies of the dictionary to elementary school students began in 1992, when Annie Plummer of Savannah, Georgia purchased 50 copies of the reference book as a gift for the children in her neighborhood school. By the time she died in 1999, Plummer had raised enough money to provide more than 17,000 dictionaries to young people, and her idea had spawned a successful nonprofit organization called The Dictionary Project. To date, The Dictionary Project has provided more than 7.8 million books to young children nationwide.

The program has been adopted by civic organizations all over the country. In the Appoquinimink School District, it is championed by members if the Middletown-Odessa Rotary Club, who each year provide the dictionaries as a gift for third grade students to keep. To date, the group has provided more than 8,000 copies for Appoquinimink students at the following schools: Brick Mill Elementary, Cedar Lane Elementary, Olive B. Loss Elementary, Silver Lake Elementary and Townsend Elementary.

Students can use the dictionaries throughout their school careers. Each year, a new dictionary – reflecting the suggestions received from hundreds of teachers, students, parents and publishers – is selected for distribution. This year, organizers purchased copies of Webster`s Dictionary for Students.

Asked why his group supports the program, Rotary member Sam Tuttle offered, `The Rotary believes in `Service Above Self.` Our mission with respect to the dictionaries is to support the cause of literacy. But our goal of service to the community is really much broader. It includes high school and adult education scholarships, support of the MOT Senior Center, camperships for kids with disabilities, participation in the Big Ball Marathon `Community Chest` and international projects like polio eradication.`

`We`re lucky to have organizations like the Middletown-Odessa Rotary involved in our schools,` concluded Dr. Marchio.