Giving the gift of words

Fairgrove Elementary third grader Luis opened his crisp, new English dictionary to a random page Thursday and started reading.
The practice was not unlike what Linda Keetch’s father, an Italian immigrant, used to do after realizing the need to learn English when he moved to the United States at age 7.
Though he died in 1955, his memory and love of learning live on through Keetch, who retired in 1999 after teaching English for nearly 30 years at Arroyo Grande High School.
She has donated more than 5,000 dictionaries to third graders in the Lucia Mar Unified School District since 2005 through a project called the Michael Gamber and Virginia Gamber Hanks Memorial Grant in honor of Keetch’s parents.
“I hope you use your dictionary as much as my dad did,” Keetch said Thursday while visiting three Fairgrove third-grade classes. “He didn’t speak English. He spoke Italian. My dad was curious, and that was a good example for me.”
Keetch and her husband, Brent, distributed about $1,000 worth of dictionaries this week to nearly 800 Lucia Mar students as part of the national Dictionary Project, which aims to help students become good writers, active readers, creative thinkers and resourceful learners by providing students with their own personal dictionary.
A soft-spoken Keetch addressed students before handing out books and asking them to turn to page 321 to learn about the homophones “tail” and “tale.”
“You can take it home,” Janet Stein, a Fairgrove teacher, said to her students. “You might want to keep it in your backpack.”
Third graders Luis, Lenni and Julian agreed that they would try to use their dictionaries every day, since so far they’ve been using ones borrowed from the school during class.
Lenni said she is excited “because we can keep it.”
Julian said he’ll use the dictionary “if there’s words we don’t understand” in homework assignments.
Keetch, a Shell Beach resident, is happy to be able to remember her father by helping a school district and students during tough economic times.
“This makes me feel like I’m honoring him,” she said. “There are a lot of kids that have their own computers at home, but a lot of kids don’t have their own books at home. If it can help one kid, it’s worth it.”

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