In an age of technology, the item causing the biggest stir at State Street School is a dictionary: The old-fashioned kind that can be held, leafed through, puzzled over and explored.
The Skaneateles Rotary Club recently placed a dictionary into the hands of each and every third and fourth grader as part of a Rotary Dictionary Project.
“We call it a gift of knowledge,” Superintendent Philip D’Angelo said as he told the students about the dictionaries containing their individual names.
The students, who were called up onto the stage in the cafeteria one-by-one to receive the personalized books, began delving into them the minute they left the stage. They buried their heads, they found words and tidbits, and they shared discoveries with friends.
“Their interest was priceless,” said Suzanne Dmochowski, a fourth grade teacher, after all 219 copies had been handed out.
“The children were as excited as on Christmas morning!” said fourth grade teacher Irene Manna. She said the most common comment she heard was "Mrs. Manna, let me show you the longest word in the dictionary!”
The immediate buzz was all about the last page where they discovered the longest word in the English language had 1,909 letters.
Back in their own classrooms, the students were torn as they waited for the bus bell to ring. Their teachers said they couldn’t decide whether to keep their dictionaries at home or at school. Many of them decided to keep the dictionaries in their backpacks so they will have easy access anywhere.
Handing out the dictionaries with D’Angelo were Principal Stephen Widrick, Rotary Club President Roberta Williams and Rotarian Ward Vuillemot. Vuillemot, who brought the project to Skaneateles, told the students that he hopes they will use and keep their dictionaries for many years.
“I have a dictionary that was given to me by my teacher … and I have had it and carried it with me for more than 55 years,” he said. He said the Dictionary Project “has been around the world. I ran into it in Montreal and decided to bring it here to Skaneateles.”
D’Angelo said that the Rotary Club, which received a grant for the project, will provide dictionaries annually to every third grader. This year, fourth graders were included in an attempt to “catch up,” he said.
“This is sweet,” third grader Thomas said as he paged through his dictionary immediately after shaking Vuillemot’s hand and saying thank you. “This is the best book in the world. I’m going to keep this forever.”
After spending time examining the books, fourth graders Hope and Patrick said they thought it was especially neat to be able to read facts about the presidents.
Fourth grader William said, "I never knew the Romans didn’t use the same numbers as us!"
Other students said that while some dictionaries are “old and bulky,” their gift dictionaries “are small enough and light enough to fit in our backpacks.”
At a morning meeting the next day, Gillian shared that she discovered a page on the Braille alphabet. On the way to recess, she and her classmates were intrigued with actually touching the Braille letters on the bathroom signs.
Fourth graders said they want their third grade friends to notice the information about the European countries for the third grade research projects. Others were already using the sign language page as a resource.
The teachers, in an email, said: “The teachers and the students of the third and fourth grades are very excited about their new gift and would like to thank the Skaneateles Rotary Club. The children felt very special to have their individual names called and then to walk across the stage to meet and shake hands with the Rotarian representatives. The kids really loved it …a gift that really keeps on giving for our life-long learners!”
"The Rotary Dictionary Project is designed to aid third grade teachers in their goal to create confident writers, active readers and creative thinkers,” Williams said in a letter to parents.
“Reading is the most important skill of all. It is the starting point for all the economic and social opportunities this world has to offer,” the Dictionary Project says on its website. “Educators see third grade as the dividing line between learning to read and reading to learn. Every year we watch The Dictionary Project grow by expanding our pool of sponsors, so more children can enjoy the benefits of owning their own personal dictionary.”