Simple gesture worth its weight in words

Third-graders at eight local schools are starting the year off right with brand-new dictionaries of their own. Over the last eight years, the Masons in Gilroy and the Pacheco Pass 4H in San Martin have provided dictionaries to schools throughout Gilroy and San Martin.
"We were joined by the San Martin Presbyterian Women six years ago," dictionary volunteer and Gilroy Mason Howard Honerlah said. "The Gilroy Elks joined us five years ago and because of this, we are providing dictionaries to all the third-grade students in Gilroy and San Martin."
The volunteers in this campaign provide dictionaries at their own expense to classrooms all across the United States in what is known as the Dictionary Project. They are responsible for distributing well over 16 million dictionaries so far.
In this day of smartphone apps and online dictionaries when it seems as if every child is plugged into the Internet 24 hours a day through some gadget attached to their bodies, does it still make sense to give children paperback dictionaries as a learning resource? According to Honerlah, it does.
While many of us are fortunate to have computers and handheld devices that provide access to the Internet anyplace we go, children in less affluent homes do not enjoy this constant access. For children still learning to read, a dictionary is still a handy tool, whether it is kept in a student’s desk or backpack; it is portable and instantly accessible. Students can mark the words they learn as they go and see the accomplishment of their growing vocabularies.
When attendance clerk Renell Murray guided the volunteers into a room full of the entire third-grade class assembled for the dictionary presentation at Glen View Elementary School, students had many questions to ask. Honerlah presented the dictionaries along with Larry Connell and several others who helped carry in the big boxes of books. Hands shot up as students excitedly asked questions. The children were especially fascinated with the pages that showed sign language and had an illustration of Braille.
"Can blind people use this to talk?" one child asked.
Honerlah said that children still need their own dictionaries to be able to develop their writing and reading skills and become resourceful learners and that third grade is a transitional time in reading levels that makes it ideal for receiving personal dictionaries. He pointed out the section in A Student’s Dictionary where the children can read a biography of each president of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and a profile of each state in the union.
They learn that California, for instance, has a size of 163,696 square miles and the state capital of Sacramento. It became the 31st state in 1850, and now the population has grown to 37,253,956 with a motto of "Eureka!" which means, "I have found it!" The state theme song is "I Love You, California." The dictionary also contains a section on each country in the world and describes population, size, religion, ethnicity, languages, government, and the budget for each nation.
As Glen View students received the dictionaries, which were handed to them individually one by one, they exclaimed, "Thanks!" and "Awesome!" It seemed that a big part of what made the experience meaningful for the children was the interaction of the care and attention being given to them by the older adults who had come to speak to them and hand out this gift. They seemed thrilled to receive a personal gift from an adult in their community who wanted to help them to do well in life.
The page that really captured the imagination of the students at Glen View was the one on which was printed the longest word in the English language. Students learned that it consists of 1,909 letters, and it is the term for the formula of a protein which is an enzyme that has 267 amino acids. It takes up almost a complete page of the dictionary.
"Now I’m ready to go to college!" one third-grader exclaimed as he looked through his new dictionary.
"Thank yous" from children regularly pour in to the Dictionary Project from all over the nation: "Thank you for the dictionaries. I really needed one because my family says some pretty complex words. I also translate for my family so I need a big vocabulary. I’ll take real good care of it. I’ll keep it by the sofa. If you’re wondering why by the sofa it’s because I sleep there. Sincerely, Felipe."
One child who received a dictionary conveyed how it felt for her this way: "I love the amazing, awesome, terrific Student Dictionary. I hide it so my sister won’t find it. Here’s the fact: everyone loves getting something, but a dictionary, man; your heart just explodes."