On Friday, Oct. 14, the Needham Rotary Club presented third-grade students at Eliot School with dictionaries as part of the national nonprofit Dictionary Project.
The Rotarians have also handed out dictionaries to third graders at the other elementary schools in Needham. This is the fourth year they have done this as one of their civic projects.
“We get as much out of this as [the kids] do,” Needham Rotary Club President Bill Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal was at Eliot on Oct. 14 along with fellow Rotarians Bill Paulson, Ken Davis, Charles Nelson and Rosalind Fisher.
Paulson began the event by explaining to the students what the Rotary Club does and that the club’s motto is “Service above self.”
Dictionaries were then passed out to each student in an orderly fashion, as they were seated in rows on the steps by classroom.
Nelson then began leading the kids through a series of scavenger hunt-like activities using their new dictionaries, which are not simply dictionaries, but a version entitled "A Student’s Dictionary & Gazetteer," which include various facts, similar to an almanac, in addition to spelling and definitions.
Nelson asked the students to look up things such as the definition of “toad” and when the first American flag was sewn. The third graders eagerly thumbed through their books and threw their hands in the air hoping to be called on to reveal the answer.
Rosenthal took over and continued asking some of the questions to finish out the activities.
The Dictionary Project has been going on in the United States since 1992, when a Savannah, GA woman began to donate dictionaries to local kids. Three years later, a South Carolina woman found about the project and started doing it in her area with the goal of eventually expanding the program across her state.
The project went national in 2002, with various civic organizations such as Rotary Clubs leading the charge to try to get dictionaries in kids’ hands.
Rosenthal said that it was Paulson who came up with the idea to do the project in Needham. Paulson said he heard about it at a district meeting from some other Rotarians.
“I was just sitting around with some other guys and said, ‘What do you do?’” he said.
The Needham Rotary Club expects to repeat the program next year. In the meantime, they have several other events coming up, most notably their pancake breakfast at Needham High School on Saturday, Nov. 5.