It’s been a while since Sanya Sitkoula 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 Sitkoula, a member of the Rotary Club of La Plata, said to members of Jessica Garcia’s class.

Rotary clubs around the country and other service clubs and organizations take part in a program 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. Rotarians have been handing out dictionaries to third graders in Charles County 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,” Sitkoula 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 Monday morning presentation, Kiran Sitkoula reviewed 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 Sitkoula, 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 – all 189,819 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.

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