Bay City Rotary Club dictionaries provide the gift of literacy to Bay County third graders


You know the word, but do you know the definition?

How about floccinaucinihilipilification?

No clue?
Well, if you want to know what either of these words means, you might ask a Bay County third grader. Every one of them can simply look up the definition in their new "Student’s Dictionary."

The books recently were presented to the children by members of the Rotary Club of Bay City. I’m a member of the club and gave dictionaries this year to the third graders at Kolb Elementary School in Bay City, visiting the classrooms of Mrs. Schultheiss, Mr. Collinson and Mrs. Hendrick.

Though it may seem like a modest gift — even outdated to some — I assure you the dictionaries are a huge hit among the students and teachers. Yes we live in a digital world, but a dictionary remains a valuable tool to promote literacy and learning. Many of the kids we serve have no Internet access, let alone a computer. For some, we’ve heard it’s the first book they’ve ever owned.

And it’s quite a book — much more than just words and definitions. These dictionaries also include a copy of The Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, information about weights and measures, the Periodic Table of Elements, biographies of every U.S. president and information on every state, country, continent and planet.

My hope is the kids hold onto these books for many years to come. I always make a point to show the students my own dictionary, which was published in 1974, given to me by my parents when I was 7 years old and is now held together with tape. If they don’t believe me, I always show them the cover where my mom wrote my name, Robby Clark — that’s what they used to call me — in the upper corner.

It’s still there after all these years. And I still use it.

In showing the students my dictionary, I ask for just one thing: that they work to make their dictionaries look like mine.

From reading the thank-you notes, it doesn’t take long for that to begin:

Hailey writes: Thank you so much for our very own dictionary! I’m going to use it for hard words like enthusiasm.

Aubrey writes: We love them so much! We read about the presidents, the planets, even those big gigantic words! Some of us even took them on the playground! Hey, did you know that the state bird of Hawaii is the Hawaiian goose? I didn’t either until I read this book.

Kadyn writes: I am so thankful for my very own dictionary because … I have not ever had a dictionary or seen a dictionary and I’m going to write letters and go on some awesome adventures with my awesome dictionary.

Tylar writes: I like my dictionary so much that I would not let my brother use it once.

Brooke writes: This dictionary will be very useful for the rest of my life (probably)!

Christina writes: I am very excited about the fresh dictionary! That was very nice of you to buy and give them to us. In fact, I already used it … on my spelling test. Just kidding. I know better than that. OK, well, bye now.

Easton writes: I thought dictionaries were for spelling words, but this has about everything you need to get through school.

This is the eighth year the Rotary Club of Bay City has presented dictionaries in Bay County. In that time, we’ve handed out nearly 9,000 books. We’re certainly not alone in our effort to promote literacy. Many service organizations around the country also hand out the books as part of an international program called The Dictionary Project.

The roots of The Dictionary Project actually date back to 1992, according to the project’s website. Since that time, more than 18 million books have been distributed. Each year, the books are updated based on the recommendations of teachers, parents and students. They are given to third graders because that is the age at which educators believe children distinguish between learning to read and reading to learn.

With these books, however, the children also seem to be reading for fun.

Just take it from Ruby, who writes:

I looked up some words over the weekend. Some I could understand, but some were crazy! Maybe I can collect dictionaries. This one even helped me say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Which, of course, is the word to say when you don’t know what to say.