Rotarians Hand Out Dictionaries to Thousands of Mesa Students

A program launched by Mesa’s Rotary clubs reached a milestone this year when members breached the 50,000 mark for the number of dictionaries donated to Mesa students in just short of a decade. Over the last eight years, members of five Rotary clubs in Mesa have combined to donate more than 50,000 dictionaries to third-graders in Mesa. Rotarian Joe O’Reilly said the clubs raise the funds themselves to cover the expense, which is between $12,000 and $15,000 each year. The program is part of a national campaign called, fittingly, the Dictionary Project, in which organizations give free dictionaries for students to keep. O’Reilly said he first heard about it after he had to make up a Rotary meeting he missed for his own club and attend a meeting with a different set of Rotarians. That happened to be the same way one of the Rotarians at the other club heard about the project. It also made sense for O’Reilly to get involved with the project given his role as the executive director of Student Achievement Support for Mesa Public Schools, which gives him access to many of the city’s third-grade students. He emphasized that the five Mesa clubs donate the books to charter and parochial schools across the city, and added not every student in Mesa receives a dictionary given the sheer number of students in Mesa. It’s also one of the reasons why the donation process has taken more than a month to complete, with the Rotarians stopping by every school to give the book to students first hand. For O’Reilly, the process is a performance of sorts, one where he highlights some of the dictionaries [sic] various features akin to how a car salesman promotes a vehicle. During a trip to Robson Elementary School on Dec. 3, for example, O’Reilly gave a presentation to four third-grade classes about what to expect — the dictionaries had not arrived during his visit. He popped open the book to show the definition of “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” — apparently, the word is conveys something that is quite wonderful or extraordinarily good — and to outline other features like the mini-biographies of every president. As the latter feature indicates, the book is a little more complex than a traditional dictionary, and O’Reilly said the decision to take that route came when the Rotarians asked teachers what they wanted their students to receive prior to the first drive. Regardless of the features, the response from the students included a few aahhs and a pretty high level of excitement, some of which came from the realization they get to keep the dictionaries after the end of the school year. “It’s a lot of fun, and kids really do get excited about the dictionary,” he said. “This is something they like and read for fun.” The excitement makes for a nice benefit, but the main reason O’Reilly said the Rotarians donate the dictionaries to third-graders is where they are at along their learning curve. Third-graders, he said, have enough of the basics down that they have gone, “from learning to read to ready to learn.”