A decade of dictionaries in Eagle County
EAGLE, Colorado – Was it really 10 years ago that local Rotarians started giving every third-grader a dictionary?
It’s 10 years and more than 4,500 dictionaries. In fact, Riley Dudley received the 4,500th dictionary Tuesday. Riley is a third grader at Brush Creek Elementary School in Eagle. Rotarian Bert Roy handed him the 4,500th book. Riley’s good fortune was random. He now knows:
“Lucky: adj. – having or bringing good fortune.”
The Vail-Eagle Valley Rotary Club started the dictionary giveaway in 2001 with 300 books. Other local clubs quickly picked it up.
Like the children who get the dictionaries, the project grew.
Now, 120 Rotary Clubs in 14 states are part of it, distributing dictionaries to more than 45,000 children every year. Dictionaries USA is run by Scott Allen, a Rotarian in Colorado Springs.
When Rotarians were passing out those first dictionaries to those first 300 third-graders, some thought it would be a one-shot/one-year deal. Then an adorable second grader bounded up to one of them on distribution day and proclaimed, “I’ll get my dictionary next year, right?”
With barely a moment’s hesitation, the Rotarian looked that child right in her bright blue eyes and said, “Yes, you will.”
And that’s how traditions are born.
“Tradition: n. – The handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation.”
Every year for 10 years … every Eagle County third-grader.
“It’s your book,” Rotarian Eddie Blender told the Brush Creek Elementary students Tuesday. “It opens up what we call ‘expectations.’ Does anyone know what expectations are?” Blender asked the 84 children.
Almost seven dozen hands shot straight into the air.
“It’s something that you desire and expect to happen,” said one adorable girl, her finger marking the page in her new dictionary.
Blender waved his arm around the Brush Creek cafeteria at other local Rotarians helping pass out dictionaries, gesturing toward bank presidents, pharmacists, a dentist. They all started out the same way, with a dictionary just like this, Blender said.
“Scientists, doctors … they all had books like this to take home. Even the president of the United States,” Blender told the children. “They were all once third graders and they all started out with one of these dictionaries.”
He encouraged them to thumb through it, mark it with yellow highlighters – whatever they wanted to do.
Here’s something you didn’t know: Blender kick started the project the year he was Rotary District governor with what we’ll call an “investment, n. – the investing of money or capital in order to gain profitable returns, as interest, income, or appreciation in value.”
Rotarians raised $2,500 in 2001 and dictionaries cost $7 each. The hard cover dictionaries now cost about $20 each.
Much of that cost is covered by their annual Labor Day Rubber Duck Race down Gore Creek through Vail Village – so yes, you really do want buy a couple more ducks.
Children write letters back, thanking Rotarians for what is the first book many of them can call their own.
“That’s one of the common themes in these letters,” Blender said.
Occasionally, though, confusion ensues.
One mother stormed back into the school, son and dictionary in hand, saying that her beloved offspring had taken this book and he was bringing it back. It took a minute or two for her to be convinced that the dictionary was his and that local Rotary Clubs gave one to every kid his age.
“Why would they do that?” the stunned mother asked.
“Third grade is a transitional year for students,” Blender said. “It’s the threshold when they’re establishing patterns that will be with them for the rest of their lives.”
And what does a third-grade teacher do with all those dictionaries?
“Paper dictionaries teach them that information is layered,” Jussi Kurronen, a third-grade teacher at Brush Creek Elementary told a handful of local Rotarians from the Western Eagle Valley club. “We were raised with paper and books, and we understand that. These children don’t. This helps teach them that.”
Big Red holds a prominent spot in Kurronen’s classroom. It’s a dictionary he bought in 1970. Language changes over time – try to find the word “e-mail” in Big Red. But love of language lasts, Kurronen said.
“Big Red is older than some of your parents,” Kurronen told the students as they received their dictionaries. “Take care of these books and they’ll last you many years.”
Flipping through their new dictionaries, Madeket Mires’ thumb fell on “Relief: n. – the projection of a figure or part from the ground or plane on which it is formed, as in sculpture or similar work.”
Madeline Capan was one of the first to find the Brush Creek mascot, “Bobcat: n. – a North American wildcat,” which could also describe about half the kids in these classes.
Just for kicks, Matthew Heiden looked up, “Dictionary: n. a book containing a selection of the words of a language, usually arranged alphabetically, giving information about their meanings, pronunciations.” And confirming that, yes, he was holding a brand new one.
On the way back to his classroom, a boy was strolling in line with his class, looking at his new dictionary and not so much where he was going. He stumbled over something that had no business being in the middle of the hallway and fell hard on his left shoulder and elbow.
His dictionary, clutched to his chest under his right forearm, didn’t touch the floor. He popped up, opened it to the page where he’d stuck his thumb as he was falling, grinned and kept reading.
You’ll find that in his new dictionary under “Multitasking: n. – the carrying out of two or more tasks at the same time by one person.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935, or firstname.lastname@example.org
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