How Rotary spells ‘labor of love’

Students and teachers alike love the free dictionaries that club members give away.

Cody was introduced to the longest word in the English language last Wednesday during class at Parkview Montessori School in Minneapolis and immediately he piped up with a question.

"Why would they invent a word that people would have a hard time pronouncing?" he asked.

The word with 1,909 letters is the name for a chemical compound that has 267 amino acids and Cody found it on the last page of the A Student’s Dictionary, a gift Quinn Tierney of the Minneapolis Rotary Club No. 9 gave him and his third-grade classmates as part of its efforts to increase literacy and spur the desire to increase their vocabulary as they progress through elementary, middle and high school, and think about going to college.

In the past few months, Tierney has delivered hundreds of the dictionaries to third graders who attend private, public and charter schools in Minneapolis. Four other Rotary Clubs in Minneapolis have partnered with Rotary Club No. 9 in the initiative that has resulted in placing the paperback dictionaries in the hands of more than 5,000 students in 84 schools.

For 30 minutes Wednesday, students in teacher Tina Swift’s class at Parkview thumbed through the books that contain 32,000 words and their definitions, along with information on each of the 50 states, the Constitution, weights and measures, and American Sign Language. They looked up words such as responsibility, and then wrote their names on the inside cover signifying the dictionaries are their very own.

"It’s a big hit with the kids," said Tierney, who was wearing a tie sporting the flags of all the countries worldwide that have Rotary clubs. "For some kids, it’s the first book in their household, and for some it’s their first book of their own. It’s a real treat to present them. It’s a labor of love."The dictionary giveaway comes as Rotary Club No. 9 is coming up on its centennial next year, and its efforts caught the attention of Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak who proclaimed last Friday as Dictionary Day in Minneapolis. Tierney dropped off the last of the dictionaries Friday to 80 third graders at Pillsbury Math Science and Technology School in northeast Minneapolis. He was joined by Mary French, originator and national director of the Dictionary Project, that has placed more than 10 million dictionaries in students nationwide since its inception in 1995.

"I’m still surprised that 15 years later that children are still excited about dictionaries because without it they don’t have the tools to express themselves and share their feelings in writing and speaking," French said. "I hope these dictionaries will make them self-reliant, better readers and creative thinkers. If they use it everyday, they will find the power within themselves to share their innate gifts."

The Dictionary Project was born in Savannah, Ga., when high school dropout Annie Plummer realized her error of not staying in school and decided to give dictionaries to students. In her lifetime she donated more than 17,000 dictionaries to children in Savannah, paid for by money she earned by cleaning houses, French said.

French took the idea and enlisted clubs such as the Minneapolis Rotary to expand the program nationwide. Since 1995, dictionaries have been given to nearly 10 million children across the country.

"We are proud to implement her idea and give kids a better education," French said.

Teachers are grateful for the books, too.

"We hit dictionary skills pretty hard in third grade, so it’s nice that they all have a dictionary," said Swift. "We do give them homework and some kids don’t have access to them at home or even to the Web. We don’t have enough dictionaries for each kid. It’s much easier to teach a lesson when they all have a book in front of them."

Pillsbury student Trejon was impressed with all the information contained in his dictionary, but was a bit perplexed with the longest word in the English language. "It looks like so many words, like somebody is making a story," he said.

Asked if he could pronounce it, he simply said "no."