Dictionaries for 3rd grade students on Navajo Nation

St. Bonaventure 3rd grade students holding dictionaries

St. Bonaventure 3rd grade students holding dictionaries

Gary Whiting

The Dictionary Project has been one of Sun Lakes Rotary Club’s most successful and rewarding projects that students, teachers, and Rotarians look forward to each year. The project was started in 2003 with this year marking the club’s 16th year of distributing dictionaries to all 3rd graders in the Chandler Unified School District. Over 50,000 dictionaries have been distributed since the project began. This year will be the second year the club has given dictionaries to the St. Bonaventure Mission and K-8 School located on the Navajo Nation in Thoreau, New Mexico.

The St. Bonaventure School in New Mexico is over 300 miles away from Sun Lakes. And as you might know, it is not part of the Chandler Unified School District. But the need for books for these children became evident as a result of a Sun Lakes Rotary project being undertaken in the Navajo territory. And the club felt the need to help.

As it happens, Sun Lakes Rotary is in the midst of a Rotary Foundation Global Water Grant providing inside running tap water for 33 Navajo homes that are located near the school. This presented the club with a unique opportunity of helping to provide water for these Navajo homes and at the same time giving Navajo students their own dictionaries to use at home and school. Of the 162 total students in the school, 20 are in the 3rd grade.

When most of us think about dictionaries, we think of books that contain words with their definitions. What makes these dictionaries so special is that they contain more than just words and definitions. There are sections that contain information on world geography, civics, multiplication tables, science, the water cycle, planets, states, presidents, and even illustrations for sign language and braille.

As you might expect, these dictionaries often represent the first books these children have ever owned. Think about it. Not all children have access to computers, and the dictionaries  provide them with the ability to do home study and group learning sessions. What happens in class when they are told to refer to a dictionary to find a word, read the definition, use it in a sentence, or sound it out using the phonetics illustrated in the dictionary if they have have not had access to this reference aid?

Sun Lakes Rotary, along with the teachers, believes that providing these dictionaries serves to help the students to become better spellers, writers, readers, and thinkers.