Thanks to Elks, Wareham third graders have plenty of words

If words are the gateway to knowledge, then this town’s third graders may have the ultimate guide when it comes to unlocking the world around them.

Third graders from two Wareham schools — John W. Decas Elementary School and Minot Forest Elementary School — each received their own Webster dictionaries, courtesy of Wareham Lodge of Elks No. 1548.

"They love having them," said Minot Forest Elementary Principal Joan Seamans of the recent book presentation. "They were so excited. The rise in the noise level of chatting about it was great was hear."

The annual dictionary distribution project is five years running in Wareham’s schools, and part of Elks’ collaborate effort with the nonprofit The Dictionary Project, which aims "to assist all students in becoming good writers, active readers, creative thinkers, and resourceful learners by providing them with their own personal dictionary."

In exchange for making a monetary donation to The Dictionary Project, the Elks Lodge receives the books and distributes them to third graders. The Dictionary Project identifies third grade as "the dividing line between learning to read and reading to learn."

In addition, the Lodge of Elks officers demonstrate how to use a dictionary as a reference tool.

"We want to offer third graders the opportunity to learn more, so we give out dictionaries," said Susan Gifford, the Past Exalted Ruler of the lodge.

Gifford, who has been involved in the project for years, said excitement among the kids has been a constant.

"You can’t believe the expression on kids’ faces. You think you’d given them a bicycle," she said. "It is just a really rewarding experience."

Gifford recalled one instance when child refused to take a dictionary. Eventually he relented. "This kid would not put it down. He didn’t want to leave the room," she said.

From all accounts, this year was a resounding success.

"You should have heard their excitement looking at the book and asking each other ‘Do you know that word?’ and quizzing each other," said Seamans.

"We appreciate Elks supporting the school," she added. "It saves us from having to buy them."

Christine Panarese, principal at the Decas Elementary School, said the visit of current Elks Exalted Ruler Robert Hurley, with his bundle of dictionaries for the students, was "a genuine honor for us."

"Children and teachers are so thrilled to have this reference book. Students feel very special to have this book as their very own. We are so grateful to the Lodge of Elks for their continued support of education in the Wareham Public Schools," Panarese said.