Third-graders at Allendale School were excited to get new dictionaries from the Pittsfield Rotary.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Learning on topics ranging from the difference between simple homonyms to the definitions of more obscure terms was ignited on Wednesday as some 60 third-graders at Allendale Elementary School explored glossy new dictionaries given to them by the Rotary Club of Pittsfield.
The colorful editions of the Macmillan Dictionary for Children, which costs about $20 each, were some of the nearly 500 handed out by the club this year at all of the elementary schools in Pittsfield, as well as Richmond Consolidated School.
"The ability to read fluently is directly correlated to the ability to do well in your life," said Rotarian Thomas Sherman, who told students that the illiteracy rate in the United States is about 5 percent.
Sherman, along with Shawn Heiman and Joan Demartino, presented copies to the Allendale youths. They are just a few of the local Rotary volunteers making stops at 10 different schools this week. The volunteers lead children in looking up such words as "polar" and "raccoon," and used the volumes to illuminate the different meanings of "bear" and "bare."
The Rotarians then asked the pupils to suggest a word they would like to look up.
"Paleontologist!" cried out one boy, upping the ante. Once they had sleuthed out the location of that six-syllable challenge, some turned to browsing the hefty tomes independently for words of interest.
"Mrs. Soules!" exclaimed another third-grader to his teacher, Holly Soules, "Kerfuffle IS a word!"
"You can't be successful in the 21st century without the ability to read and write," said Pittsfield Rotary President Greg Knight in a statement. "As local Rotarians, we wanted to support the goals of Rotary International while doing something truly meaningful to help improve the literacy of children in Pittsfield and Richmond."
Major dictionary giving initiatives first gained momentum in the American South in the early '90s, as a way to encourage learning and literacy. The local program by the Pittsfield Rotary is now in its 9th year, and the club says it has distributed just more than 4,500 dictionaries to third-graders in the district since its inception. Nationally, about 18 million children have received new dictionaries given by various groups and organizations since 1995, according to the The Dictionary Project,
and similar programs have begun in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
Rotary says it has been able, through fund raising and past golf tournaments, to endow indefinitely the dictionary distribution program, or other important literacy projects "should it be determined that dictionaries are no longer useful tools for third-grade students."