Lakewood Elks’ gift of dictionaries spells delight for third graders

Venita Collier’s past three Octobers have been busy and she aims to keep it that way.

Collier, first lady and lecturing knight of Lakewood Elks Lodge 1777, leads the local Elks’ dictionary program and distributes dictionaries to all the third-grade classes in the Lakewood area throughout the month.

“It is a national project to see that all the third graders in the United States receive a dictionary,” she said.

Collier started the project in  Lakewood in 2009 when someone was needed to step up.

This year, Collier had to raise $3,500 to pay for the dictionaries and was able to do so through donations from Elks members.

Collier will travel to 35 schools and hand out nearly 2,100 dictionaries to students. On Oct. 12, she was at Belmar Elementary School, 885 S. Garrison St., and met with both third-grade classes.

Collier gave the students a copy of “A Student’s Dictionary,” which, in addition to a dictionary, also contains biographies of all U.S. presidents, copies of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, facts about planets and the solar system, maps of the seven continents, information on the 50 states and weights and measures.

“It’s exciting for them. They enjoy looking up words and it’s much more than a dictionary,” Belmar third-grade teacher Jill Kuzava said.

The project also helps teachers like Kuzava and her third-grade colleague Marci Allen get students excited for their study of dictionaries.

“We usually launch our dictionary unit around the time they get them so they can use them as a resource,” Allen said.

Principal Peter Ludwig has been in charge at Belmar Elementary for five years and said he realizes the importance of kids knowing how to use a dictionary.

“Dictionaries are (a) kind of powerful tool, they’re kind of fun even in our Internet age, they have a lot of use and it’s good for kids to learn about them in the early grades,” Ludwig said.

Collier spoke to the combined classes for several minutes and walked them through certain aspects of the book. The presentation was highlighted by the screams of excitement that echoed throughout the room when she told the students they could write their names in the books and take them home at the end of the year.

“It’s a good feeling. It helps them and they get to explore,” she said.