History of the Dictionary Project at Valley Grange

dictionaryprojThe Dictionary Project is a 501C3 nonprofit organization located in North Carolina and designed to raise money to provide a dictionary for third-grade students. The ideal of this program is to aid third-grade teachers in their goal to see all their students leave at the end of the year as good writers, active readers, and creative thinkers. The purpose of this agency is to provide third-grade students with their own personal dictionary. The dictionary is for the children to keep, so that they can take it with them into the fourth grade and use it throughout their entire school career.

A dictionary is perhaps the first and most powerful reference tool that a child should own. Its usefulness goes beyond the spellings, pronunciations, and definitions it lists; it is a companion for solving problems that arise as a child develops his or her reading, writing, and creative thinking abilities. Students benefit from an increased self-reliance and resourcefulness inspired by the maxim “look it up.” Reading by itself, although helpful is not an efficient way of learning new words, since there is an almost irresistible tendency to skip over words in order to get on with the story.

Teachers benefit by knowing that their students have consistent access to a tool for homework and in-class exploration. Many curricula have reduced learning the English Language to mere guesswork. We emphasize the importance of using a dictionary to make sure all words are spelled correctly. The program is an opportunity for children to expand their vocabularies. A strong vocabulary is important for gaining knowledge because it is the only way people have to share their ideas and thoughts through communication. A small vocabulary limits the use that a person can make of his or her natural abilities. The blight of illiteracy decreases the effectiveness of the innate gifts of the people in any society.

Recognizing these values, Valley Grange initiated a “Words for Thirds” project at Guilford Primary School in conjunction with South Sangerville Grange in 2005. Grange member met with students and the teachers in the Library and spoke briefly about the Grange and the some basic dictionary skills. Students and parents alike were more than happy to have their dictionaries! Even we ourselves were a bit surprised by the enthusiasm of the students. But we knew we were on to something good and had to keep doing it.

Guilford Primary Third Graders Wave Their New Dictionaries (2005)

Guilford Primary Third Graders Wave Their New Dictionaries (2005)

As time progressed the familiar red dictionary could be seen in book bags in middle school. Perhaps a bit tattered and worn, but clearly a meaningful part of the students’ personal library. The thank you notes and drawings we received sometimes made us laugh and sometimes made us want to cry. But they also made us hungry for more.

The program continued every year and, thanks in a large part to Julie Orton, GPS Principal achieved a new level in 2007 when the entire third grade visited Valley Grange Hall for lunch and an expanded presentation. We had an “extended opportunity” to talk about lots of things relative to agriculture and the Grange and each third-grade class received their very own RFD mailbox to use throughout the school year. Perhaps our biggest surprise was when the Channel Five News Team showed up! The Six O’Clock and Eleven O’Clock news that night carried the story of “third graders looking up words and being excited about reading.” One news anchor opined, “There IS hope!”

Students visit Valley Grange and learn about RFD while getting dictionaries (2007)

Students visit Valley Grange and learn about RFD while getting dictionaries (2007)

With more than simple hope, 2007 was also the year Valley Grange committed to bringing the program into SAD 68 – to include Monson Elementary and SeDoMoCha in Dover-Foxcroft. (Monson Elementary has since closed and students attend SeDoMoCha.) This more than doubled the number of dictionaries we were distributing. The power of this program truly began striking deep in hearts and minds. Kids loved the dictionaries, but we also felt that we were reaching them with an important message about learning and supporting each other. During our visits with them they were like little “sponges,” just soaking up any information we could offer. But most importantly they were discovering the information between the pages of their dictionaries.

Our visit to Monson was actually quite intimate as we sat with four third graders. From there it was on to Dover-Foxcroft where, again a television news reporter waited. This time, it was Channel Two promoting the excitement a simple dictionary can bring to the hearts and minds of children.

SeDoMoCha also decided to turn Dictionary Day into a field trip and are now visiting the Valley Grange Hall. We are fortunate to have Civil War Reenactors Captain Jack Battick and Miss Mary (Annis) present to acquaint the students with the era immediately preceding the founding of the Grange. In 2008 we voted to add yet another School District to our program. SAD 41 offered us the chance to meet with third graders in Milo, Brownville and LaGrange to share the message that words are fun and all we really have to do is “look it up!”  This meant by the time our “Grange Year” is over we have sprinkled dictionaries parallel to our membership, “from Monson to Milo.”

The next major change to our program took place in 2014 when, by mutual agreement with Garland Grange we assumed responsibility for AOS 94 which includes Ridgeview Elementary and Harmony Elementary Schools. While the numbers change a little every year, we are proud to be involved with four school districts, an average of 15 classes and placing dictionaries in the hands of at least 250 third graders every year.

At the time this was written (Fall 2015), we estimate that we’ve presented some 1500 dictionaries over the life of the program. This past summer a high school student visited our booth at RiverFest and told us she wanted us to know she still has and is using the dictionary we gave her. Valley Grange members are proud to have given a dictionary (and all the words in it) to an entire generation of kids!

(If your third grader missed out, check with the school or a member of the Grange… home schooled children are also eligible.)

2018 Update… we’ve surpassed the 2000 mark of dictionaries distributed and are still going strong. We typically distribute 200-250 dictionaries every year. But it’s not really about the numbers. One kid, one dictionary. The stories are many but each one is personal. A dictionary can make a big difference in a child’s life.

Additional Civil War Reenactors who have helped include Sergeant Eric Boothroyd, Corporal Jim Austin, and Private Wayne Bennett. We owe a lot of gratitude to the many people who help and support us with this program, including those who participate in our fundraising raffles. A dictionary makes a difference!

2020 and 2021 taxed our creativity when COVID prevented field trips and in-person visits to schools. Because Walter is a substitute teacher and employee of SAD 4, he was able to make a brief presentation at Piscataquis Community Elementary School. Dictionaries were delivered to the other schools and a short video was prepared for teachers to use when handling out the dictionaries on our behalf.

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