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Rotary Club hands out dictionaries to third grade students

It’s been a while since Sanya Sitoula walked in the hallways of Indian Head Elementary School. Now an eighth grader at General Smallwood Middle School, Sanya recently returned to her former school to help her dad, Kiran, with a special project.

For nearly 20 years, Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) students in third grade have been given the gift of words when members of Rotary clubs give each their own dictionary. “You will appreciate this gift for the rest of your life,” Kiran Sitoula, a member of the Rotary Club of La Plata, said to members of Jessica Garcia’s class.

Rotary clubs around the country — as well as other service clubs and organizations — take part in a program that was started in 1992 by a Savannah, Ga., housewife. Soon the tradition of giving out dictionaries to third graders picked up steam when the Dictionary Project was formed three years later in 1995. Over the years, the program has been taken up by organizations around the country resulting in more than 28 million dictionaries given away. In Charles County, Rotarians have been handing out dictionaries to third graders since 2004. Third grade is the golden age for the giveaway. Second grade is too young, fourth graders is a bit too old. Third grade seems to be the right age. “The level of curiosity is there,” Sitoula said.

“The more you read, the more your brain grows bigger and bigger,” he told students. “You can’t see it, but it’s growing, and you are making connections and getting smarter and smarter.”

Though classroom configurations and hallway layouts of her former elementary school have faded from Sanya’s memory, receiving a dictionary in third grade has not. She remembered receiving one when she was third grader. “Yeah, it’s easy to go online, but with books … it’s your own book,” she said. “It’s yours to keep. And it’s not just a dictionary. It has stats, information about states, countries and other facts.” Sanya said she referred to the dictionary throughout out elementary school.

During the presentation on Monday morning, Kiran Sitoula went over some of the highlights within the book’s binding. The U.S. Constitution is in it, information about U.S. presidents and states, and facts about countries around the world are contained between the front and back covers. Countries like Nepal, where Kiran Sitoula, was born. Sanya and her father taught students about Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, which Sanya saw out of her bedroom window while visiting Nepal for an extended stay recently.

Students discussed the population of countries they have visited or hope to in the future. They also took a shot at saying the longest word in the English language – more than 1,900 letters of it. The chemical name of titin, the largest known protein, takes up more than half of the page it’s printed on in the students’ dictionary.

“If we get that word on the spelling bee, we’re so out,” Krisstopher Garcia, a third grader in Paige Koerbel’s, class said.

About CCPS

Charles County Public Schools provides 27,598 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 37 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.

The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Kathy Kiessling, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Nikial M. Majors, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.


CCPS provides nondiscriminatory equal access to school facilities in accordance with its Use of Facilities rules to designated youth groups (including, but not limited to, the Boy Scouts).