Westford third-graders excitedly buried their noses in books this week thanks to the Westford Rotary.
The Westford Rotary Club celebrated American Education Week by giving each third-grader in Westford a dictionary. The National Education Association`s 87th annual American Education Week spotlights the importance of providing every child in America with a quality public education from kindergarten through college, and the need for everyone to do his or her part in making public schools great.
Rotarians visit each third grade class in Westford to present each student with a dictionary. Rotary member Bill Barnett said it is a great way to highlight the message of American Education Week and tell the students about what the Rotary does.
`The books are just a doorway to education and we let them know helping the community is one of the missions of the Rotary,` said Barnett.
The free dictionary idea was started by Annie Plummer of Savannah, Georgia, in 1992 when she gave 50 dictionaries to children who attended a school close to her home. Plummer`s idea blossomed into the nonprofit organization called `The Dictionary Project.` The goal of the Dictionary Project is to improve the reading ability and comprehension of all children.
At the beginning of each dictionary presentation, former Rotary President Marshall Tisdale explains what the Rotary does by asking the students to define the word `service.`
`When we first started doing that I thought it was a clever way to start, but the kids get it every time,` said Tisdale.
Tisdale came up with the idea to pass out dictionaries two years ago. He said the Rotary spends much of its time and money helping third world countries get clean water and he wanted to do something for the town.
`The Rotary is, first and foremost, a local service group. I wanted us to do something to give back to the local community,` said Tisdale.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Education an estimated 877,000 Massachusetts adults are not functionally literate and another 1,162,000 are literate, but lack the skills expected of high school graduates.
Tisdale said the dictionaries are like mini-encyclopedias. Along with thousands of definitions there are several maps, information on the 50 United States, and information on the presidents. On top of that this year`s edition included passages on how to read braille and sign language. Barnett said the dictionaries always get a good reception from the kids.
`They are so excited when they get their own dictionary. They open it and start reading it right away,` said Barnett.
Out of all the schools they visited, Tisdale said the Day school students were the most animated when they received their dictionaries.
`Some kids came up to us and said, `This is the coolest book I`ve ever gotten.` A few were shouting to us as we walked to the other classroom, `I`m already reading it!`,` said Tisdale.
Both Tisdale and Barnett agree the students` reaction make handing out the dictionaries all worth it.