Helping to redefine elementary education

Shane’s new dictionary had only been in hand for about two minutes before he found the sign language tutorial in the back pages and began sending silent messages "in code" across his third-grade classroom at Lafayette Elementary.

"It’s cool. I was just talking to my friends. I was just spelling things," he said. "I’m going to try to learn the whole alphabet at my house tonight."

Enabling stealth classroom communications may not have been near the top of the Coal Creek Rotary Club’s objectives when it distributed free dictionaries to all third graders at Pioneer, Sanchez, Ryan and Lafayette elementary students in recent weeks. But self-education is. So is supporting classroom lessons.

And in that sense, Shane played right into the Rotary Club’s hand.
"At page 398, there’s stuff about all the presidents, even Thomas Jefferson," he exclaimed, still eagerly shuffling through the pages of his new dictionary. "We’re learning about Lewis and Clark and how Thomas Jefferson was their captain."

Mission accomplished.

For the past seven years, the Rotary Club has handed out Spanish-to-English and English-to-Spanish dictionaries to students at Pioneer and Sanchez elementary schools in Lafayette. This year is the first that the club added Ryan and Lafayette elementaries to its distribution list.

Bob Carruthers, the outgoing chair of the Rotary’s literacy committee, handed out dictionaries to the entire third-grade classes at Ryan and Lafayette elementaries on Monday, April 30, with the help of incoming committee chair Craig Chisum. Carruthers said the stars aligned to allow the Rotary Club to add two more schools this year.

"Typically, we just donate to Pioneer and Sanchez, and that’s due to budgetary reasons," Carruthers said. "But a woman from something called The Dictionary Project called me and asked if we would consider donating dictionaries to Lafayette and Ryan elementaries. Now, she lives in South Carolina, so how she figured it all out, I don’t know. I asked where the funding would come from and she said, ‘We’ll donate them this year.’ So here we are."

The Rotary Club distributed 123 dual-language dictionaries to Pioneer students and another 67 to students at Sanchez. The 75 dictionaries passed out at Ryan were English-only, as were the 120 distributed at Lafayette Elementary.

Lafayette Elementary third-grade teacher Carolan Covington said she’s glad the Rotary was able to include her school this year.

"It’s a great program. And the kids will be able to take these home, which is fantastic," Covington said. "They’re so excited to get their own dictionaries."

Lafayette Elementary third grader Ellie said she lost her old dictionary and was relieved to have a new one.

"I like it. I might read it all," she said Monday. "It might take me a long time."

Like Shane, Ellie dove right in when Chisum handed out her new dictionary.

"I found the multiplication tables … and the longest word in the English language. It’s 26 lines long and had 1,909 letters," Ellie said. "I’ll never be able to spell it."

But Ellie and her classmates said they are ready to buckle down and put their dictionaries to their intended purpose.

"Most of the words I use I know how to spell," Ellie said. "But when I need to write down something important on paper I usually like to look it up to see if it’s spelled correctly. Now I can."