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Thursday, May 30, 2024
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Students Given a World of Words

Excited third-grade students from Jane E. Tuitt Elementary display their new dictionaries.Jane E. Tuitt Elementary School principal Carolyln Archer almost found herself in hot water Wednesday morning when she made a bargain with Lisa Evans’ third grade class.
The occasion was the 7th annual distribution of dictionaries from the Dictionary Project Fund at the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands. The project has provided more than 10,000 dictionaries since its inception in 2002.
"Now, class," said Archer. "I want you to write out the number 10,000 for me. I will go down to my office and get a prize for the one who first hands me a piece of paper with their name and the number correctly written," whereupon Archer almost simultaneously found 16 hands thrust at her with the assignment correctly written.
"Oh dear," said the principal with a smile. "I’ll have to get more than one prize."
CFVI Foundation Director Beverly Chongasing explained to the students that the project is funded with donations from the community and with help from local organizations. This year the Rotary Club of St. Thomas Sunrise helped in the distribution
"Jane E. Tuitt is our adopted school," said president Jenifer Smith, who led the youngsters in opening their dictionaries and getting to work.
A former teacher, Smith asked the class to look up the word, team.
"We at Rotary work as a team; we work together. Now, who can find it?’ asked Smith.
"I’ve got it," exclaimed Karanja James, "A group of people working together."
"Right," said Smith. "Now put a mark next to that word – that means you now own that word, you know what it means, so it’s yours."
Then, she asked, "What is the word right before that?"
"Teacher," the class boomed out in unison.
"Who is the most important teacher?"
"Miss Evans," the class replied, except for one circumspect youngster, who offered, "Miss Archer."
The project is the continuing dream come true of Gretta Moorhead, longtime St. Thomas English teacher, now retired.
"It’s my way of giving something back to the students," Moorhead said. Children’s literacy has long been the focus of her professional life.
"About nine years ago," Moorhead said, "I read about a Mary French, a South Carolina woman who had started a project on her own to place dictionaries in the hands of pupils in South Carolina," she said. "I knew that I wanted to create a similar project in the Virgin Islands."
It took perseverance.
"I called Mary French to find out how she did it, and I’ve kept in touch since," Moorhead said. "I’ve hounded her."
Moorhead established the Dictionary Project Fund in 2002 as a permanent fund at the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands.
The 524-page 2009 edition of "A Student’s Dictionary" now includes territories, including the V.I.
"When we got the first editions of the dictionaries, the states and countries were listed, but no territories," Moorhead said. "I pestered them until they finally were included a couple years ago."
Moorhead showed obvious joy in talking with the students Wednesday.
"What’s your favorite word?" she asked.
"Jelly!" came one answer.
"I just loved that," she said later, "jelly, of all things."
Third graders all across the territory will receive the dictionaries, she said.
"In the third grade," Moorhead said, "children are usually about eight. it’s a time when children are becoming more independent. It a time when children shift from learning to read, to reading to learn. They are like sponges, ready to absorb. It’s an exciting age."

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