The Montclair Rotary Club has helped a generation of elementary school students in Montclair and Verona get a jump start in building their vocabulary. Over the past 18 years the club, which serves both communities, donated more than 15,500 student dictionaries to third-grade students in each school district. The first groups of students to receive their dictionaries have graduated from high school and finished college.
Montclair Rotarian Georgia Brown brought The Dictionary Project to the two communities in 2004 and has coordinated the effort the entire time. Annually, Brown and volunteers from the club distribute student dictionaries to pupils at 15 private, parochial, and public elementary schools in Montclair and Verona. This winter and spring, Brown and the club’s team delivered a total of 1,401 dictionaries to third and fourth graders in both communities.
Students at Brookdale Avenue, Forest Avenue, Laning Avenue, and F.N. Brown elementary schools got dictionaries this year, as well as students at Our Lady of the Lake School and Spectrum360, Verona-based private schools. Nine pubic and private elementary schools in Montclair also got dictionaries.
Brown’s enthusiasm for the project earned her the nickname “Dictionary Peach,” a reference to her home state of Georgia.
The Montclair Rotary Foundation and Rotary District 7475 Foundation, both nonprofits, plus donations from individuals have funded the purchase of dictionaries. The total expenditure for the books exceeds $60,000.
Typically, the Rotary club gives dictionaries to third graders. But when the COVID pandemic disrupted that schedule during 2020 and 2021, Brown decided to expand the project this year to include fourth grade classes in the dictionary distribution.
The soft-bound books have more than 370 pages of words and definitions plus maps, biographies of U.S. presidents and information about America’s states and nations of the world. In the past, Brown brought dictionaries to each classroom and encouraged to lookup a word each day. She showed students that the dictionaries included the longest word in the English language, which has more than 1,900 letters.
“I was a natural choice to chair The Dictionary Project committee because I have always loved words,” Brown said. “And I am a curious person and good dictionaries have thousands of words plus an abundance of useful information.”
The late Robert Pityo, a longtime member of the Cedar Grove Rotary Club, mentored Brown in the dictionary project. Brown embraced the project because she believes that learning is a lifetime habit. Dictionaries, she added, are tools people can always use.
During a recent dictionary delivery to Verona’s Laning Avenue School, Principal Howard Freund said, “I am grateful for the opportunity to give our third and fourth graders their own dictionaries. They hold the dictionary in their hands and flip through pages filled with thousands of words. Students get to discover different words and find out what they mean.”
Brown, who is retired from the U.S. Postal Service’s office in Montclair, is completing her last year as chairperson of The Dictionary Project. “I have many wonderful memories meeting and speaking with students at each of the local schools,” she said. “When I hand the dictionary to students, I often see a sparkle of gratitude in their eyes and that makes all the effort worthwhile.”
The Rotary Club is marking its 100th anniversary year in 2022. The club that serves the communities of Montclair and Verona by supporting not-for-profit organizations, schools, and community groups. Rotarians volunteer their time and contribute resources to aid local hunger-relief and food insecurity programs, affordable housing efforts, the local animal shelter, and programs for veterans and the elderly. Members also sponsor community service projects. For more information about the Rotary, which meets each Tuesday at 12:15 p.m., contact Club President Paul Metcalfe at [email protected] The club currently alternates between virtual meetings and in-person sessions held at the Greek Taverna Restaurant in Montclair.