Pawling Rotary Club Members Delight Third Graders with Dictionary Gift


With boxes of brand-new dictionaries in tow, members of the Pawling Rotary Club visited Pawling Elementary School on Tuesday, November 7 for a special assembly to gift dictionaries to each third-grade student.

The latest in a twenty-eight-year stretch of annual visits, the event is part of the Rotary Dictionary Project: a global initiative that aims to promote literacy by providing personal dictionaries to students. Pawling Rotarians kicked off the event by lining up to greet classes as they filed into the multi-purpose room. Students had been briefed by their teachers in advance, and it showed; they spoke in hushed tones as their eager eyes searched a long table stacked neatly with colorful dictionaries.

Third grade teacher Selena Baaden said that this is typical of her students’ reaction year after year; they not only delight in receiving their very own dictionaries but also see it as a milestone of sorts.

“This event represents an elevated expectation of learning in a ‘big kid’ grade,” she said. “It’s a staple in our autumn calendar, and the children always look forward to it.”

The assembly began with a short presentation from Pawling Rotarian John Ammaturo about the project’s mission to champion literacy and education within the community. Students were then called up individually by name to receive dictionaries – each containing a personalized name plate and the Rotary’s wagon wheel logo. Every exchange was sealed with a handshake, after which the children proudly displayed their gifts for the camera.

Back at their seats, the third graders unfolded their new books – some reading silently while others chatted excitedly with classmates, pointing out words and practicing the American Sign Language alphabet included in the books’ reference section. The room buzzed with conversation:

“Hey, look at this!”

“Wow, that’s the longest word I’ve ever seen.”

“I’ve always wanted a dictionary!”

Baaden said that the particular dictionaries that the Rotary provides aren’t just run-of-the-mill books; they also contain information on chemical compounds, American history, geography and even astronomy.

“They’re special in that they provide historical, civic and scientific content to explore,” she said. “It encourages curiosity, discovery and lots of questions and makes the learning process more engaging and interactive for them.”

Students quieted as Rotarian Richard Harshbarger concluded the event by praising the students for their enthusiasm and curiosity before leading them in a pledge to use their dictionaries every day and become lifelong learners.Harshbarger later explained why the Rotary chooses third-grade students for the event; according to educators, students who meet grade level reading standards by third grade are more likely to succeed in academics.

“We focus our efforts on third graders because that is such an important milestone in a child’s educational life,” Harshbarger said. “We hope the children will use the dictionaries at school and at home to become good readers and writers.”

Rotarian Medina Khalil smiled as she watched the students make their way back to their classrooms, each one clutching their brand-new dictionary.

"This is what we love the most: seeing the faces of these children as they explore the world inside a book,” she said. “Watching them light up as they share with one another is very rewarding.”

The Rotary Club of Pawling has been participating in the Dictionary Project since 1995. The club will also provide dictionaries to third graders at the Mizzentop Day School this year, reaching a total of about 110 students in the Town and Village of Pawling.

“It’s such a pleasure to watch our students use this resource all year in so many ways – even just for fun!” said Baaden. “We are extraordinarily grateful to the Pawling Rotary Club for investing in our students in such a meaningful way.”