Twenty-six students in Mrs. Cunha’s third-grade class looked down at the top their desk.

Someone had placed a brand-new dictionary there.

“These are going to be your very own dictionaries,” said Mary Johnson with Kuna Grange.

“My brother has one of these!” one student exclaimed.

“How many of you have brothers and sisters who have one of these?” Johnson asked.

Over half of the students raised their hands.

“This is yours to use the rest of the school year and the rest of your life,” Johnson said.

The Kuna Grange has been giving out student dictionaries to third-grade students for 12 years, Johnson said. The project started with one woman, Annie Plummer from Georgia, donating dictionaries to students in her neighborhood from her garage.

“The goal of this program is to assist all students in becoming good writers, active readers, creative thinkers, and resourceful learners,” the project’s mission statement reads, “by providing them with their own personal dictionary.”

“Please turn to page 373,” Johnson said.

Pages rustled.

“Can any of you tell me what that word is?” Johnson asked.

+4 
The longest word in the English language

The room was silent as third-graders pondered the 1,909-letter word.

The student dictionaries have more than word definitions. Other pages have multiplication tables, information about U.S. presidents, state demographics and the planets.

“Should we give your teacher an assignment to learn how to pronounce the word?” Johnson asked.

“Yeah!”

Mrs. Deb Cunha chuckled.

“This is perfect timing,” Cunha said quietly as Johnson had the students turn to another page in their dictionaries. “We’re going over words, multiplication tables.”

Every year third-grade students in the Kuna school district receive a student dictionary. Cunha’s class is one of three third-grade classes at Crimson Point Elementary School. There are 82 third-grade students at Crimson Point Elementary School.

“Educators see third grade as the dividing line between learning to read and reading to learn,” the project’s mission statement reads.

Students at Falcon Ridge Public Charter School and Indian Creek, Hubbard, Reed and Silver Trail elementary schools also receive dictionaries.

This year about 450 dictionaries were handed out to students and teachers who didn’t have one. Between 300 to 375 dictionaries were handed out the first year.

The Kuna Grange also tries to give each teacher an extra student dictionary in case they gain a student, which, according to Cunha, often happens around March during the school year.

Homeschool students do not receive one, according to Johnson, because, likely, Grange members haven’t considered it.

The dictionaries are paid through through local sponsors. This year’s sponsors were:

n Richard Cardoza

n Marie B. Durrant

n Enrique’s restaurant

n Kuna Grange #59

n Pat and Shelly Jones

n Rob Morris #63 OES (Eastern Star)

n Greg Nelson, former Kuna mayor

n J&M Sanitation

n Joe Stear, Kuna mayor

n Kuna Welding

Kuna Grange delivers the student dictionaries several days over the course of a week. Granges in other states participate in the nation-wide community service project, called Words For Thirds, as well.

The project, which started in 1992 by Plummer, gained out-of-state attention in 1995 and was made into a nonprofit. Later, organizations like community granges, Lion’s Clubs, etc. adopted the project as some of their community service.

“I have so much fun just watching them,” Johnson said. “The kids get so excited!”

Every year, since 2002, Kuna Grange purchases the dictionaries on credit. Then local sponsors, including Kuna Grange, contribute funds for the dictionaries. The cost is then evenly divided among the sponsors unless the sponsors indicate they want to pay a certain amount.

This year, according to Johnson, the dictionaries cost about $1,200.

Johnson and her husband Don have been coordinating Kuna Grange’s participation since year one. It’s a lot of work, Johnson said, from mailing letters to parents explaining the project, to scheduling times to hand out the books, to contacting sponsors and to providing teachers with a list of the sponsors so students can write thank you notes.

But something keeps bringing Johnson back year after year.

Once the students have their dictionaries, they are told to write their name on the first page inside.

“One gal said to me,” Johnson said, “‘I put my name in this?’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘That’s yours.’ Her eyes got so big. She couldn’t imagine it was hers.”

‘A REWARDING COMMUNITY SERVICE PROJECT’

Kuna Grange used to distribute dictionaries in the cafeterias of each school, Johnson said, but that changed after a couple years because a teacher suggested Grange members should hand the dictionaries out in the classrooms.

“It provides a closer connection (to the students),” Johnson said.

The Johnsons and other grange volunteers, like Jerry Gibson, spend about 30 minutes in each classroom. After the dictionaries are passed out and students have written their names in their dictionaries, Johnson guides the students through a “few things of interest” to them in the dictionaries.

“Please turn to page 538,” Johnson says.

“Do you know what that is?”

“Brail,” one students says.

“Very good. Now turn to the next page. There’s sign language.”

“Woah!” a few exclaim.

Pages with information about U.S. presidents receive a similar response.

“Turn to page 438,” Johnson says. “What do you see on there?”

“I see Idaho and Hawaii,” one boy answers.

“See under Idaho?” Johnson continues. “It has the state’s population. What’s the Capital of Idaho?”

“Boise.”

To conclude touring the dictionary, Jerry Gibson has the students turn to page 148.

“First column, third word,” Gibson says. “What’s that word?”

“Grange,” students respond.

Gibson then has one student read the second definition, which defines the grange organization. Gibson came up with that exercise for the students.

The time is 10:40 a.m. All three third-grade classrooms at Crimson Point Elementary School have had dictionaries delivered to them.

“Thank you,” the students chorus as Johnson says it’s time to leave.

“We’re just happy we can give you these,” Johnson responded. “And we hope you enjoy them.”

When asked what she wants the community to know about the dictionary project, Johnson answered that she thinks it’s been one of the most rewarding community projects the Kuna Grange has done.

“We couldn’t do it without other sponsors,” Johnson said.“It benefits the children and gives them something substantial they can use the rest of their lives. It helps them learn more.”

Alx Stevens is the reporter for Kuna Melba News. Contact her at 208-922-3008 or editor@kunamelba.com.

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