Mt. Airy Rotary Club doles out dictionaries to students

 Mount Airy Elementary School students have a new resource thanks to a donation from the Mount Airy Rotary Club.

`This dictionary is one of the coolest dictionaries,` Rotary Club member Carol Blackburn told a class of attentive third-graders last week as she held up a blue paperback book with a picture of a globe on the front.

She flipped through the book, pointing out not only the words it spelled and defined, but other perks. Students gasped when she showed them the sign language alphabet, the longest word in the English language, information on U.S. presidents, measurement tables, the solar system and capitols.

`I know what the capitol of Egypt is,` volunteered student Daniel proudly.

When asked, he exclaimed `Cairo!`

Blackburn asked if he knew the capitol of Maryland, as she displayed the page in the book with information on the state. A chorus of voices answered in response, `Annapolis.`

As Rotary members fanned out among the desks handing out the books, third-grader Jack received the gift and instantly flipped it open to the back page, surveying the longest word in the English language — 1,909 letters to describe an enzyme with 267 amino acids — with an impressed look on his face.

The reactions during the delivery on Sept. 17 were ones that Rotary members have seen for the five years they have distributed the books as part of the national Dictionary Project.

“Awesome` is what they usually have to say,` said Ken Lee, the Mount Airy resident and Rotary member who has organized the event for three years.

Teacher Jennifer Lynch thanked the Rotary members as they left the classroom; third-graders quickly scrawled their names in the dictionaries to claim their book that they can leave at school or take home.

Principal Debbie Bunker said kids are excited about the books, dismissing the idea that the children, growing up in a media-saturated world, wouldn`t value the books.

`They`re just thrilled. They still love to have a book in their hand,` she said. `It`s still something personal.`

Lee said the Rotary`s involvement with the dictionaries is rooted in the club`s mission, which includes an emphasis on education.

`The basis of that is the Rotary`s fundamental idea of promoting goodwill through understanding and understanding through education,` he said, adding that the club is heavily involved in giving scholarships to students.

Lee said the group will distribute more than 400 books to students at Mount Airy Elementary School, Twin Ridge Elementary School, Lisbon Elementary School and Mount Airy Christian Academy.

`A lot of the time they write thank you notes,` Lee said. `It`s really a hoot to get.`

Lee said the dictionary hand-out in Mount Airy is just part of a large scale effort called The Dictionary Project through a nonprofit group based in South Carolina. He said other service groups, including the Grange, and individuals are involved in the project.

Lee said a favorite of the kids is the longest word in the English language. The word, taking up most of the page, is 1,909 letters long.

`It`s a word used to describe an enzyme process to convert food into energy,` he said. `It`s a process of metabolism.`

The club usually orders the books in August with the intention of passing them out in September. The books cost the club roughly $1.50 per book.

A small group hauling boxes of the books trooped through Mount Airy Elementary and Twin Ridge Elementary on Sept. 17 and finished up with the remaining two schools on Wednesday.

Lee said that out of the roughly 20 members in the club, usually five or six come out to help distribute the books.

`We break into teams,` he said. `We try to not take up too much of the class time.`

Blackburn, publisher emeritus of The Gazette in Mount Airy, said the dictionaries are unique in that they are at the kids` level. `A teacher said the kids use them rather than the big ones,` she said.