Oct. 15, 2003 – Gretta Moorhead, a onetime English teacher in the St. Thomas public schools, believes in the power of words.
It's about building your vocabulary, improving your spelling, saying what you mean and understanding what others say or write, and being able to look something up when you're not sure. It starts in the first year of life, but Moorhead figures a formative time is third grade in school.
And so, last year she established The Dictionary Project Fund at the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands. The purpose of the permanent fund is to place dictionaries in the hands of every third grader in the territory's public schools — not to use in class or borrow for the term, but to keep for their very own.
Children's literacy has long been the focus of her own professional life, Moorhead said in a CFVI release. When she read about a project to place dictionaries in the hands of pupils in South Carolina a year ago, "I knew that I wanted to create a similar project in the Virgin Islands," she said.
On Oct. 9, with the assistance of volunteers from the community, CFVI distributed 932 dictionaries to pupils in the 10 St. Croix public elementary schools. On Tuesday, the foundation, again assisted by community volunteers, distributed nearly 800 more to the 12 public primary schools on St. Thomas. Third-grade pupils at the two public schools on St. John will get theirs next week, CFVI's president, Dee Baecher-Brown, said on Wednesday afternoon.
Adding to the special nature of the day at Joseph Gomez School on Wednesday was a guest appearance by Education Commissioner Noreen Michael, who cheerfully posed for photographs with pupils and their new dictionaries in one classroom.
According to the CFVI release, "the third grade was identified as an ideal time to capture and focus a child's excitement and curiosity about words and language. Children at this age have the reading maturity to use a dictionary as a learning tool; they are becoming independent learners."
And between the covers of a dictionary, there's a never-ending supply of words — and their meanings — to learn, and then to put to good use.
"I've always been a dictionary person," Moorhead said. "I know how the regular use of a dictionary can enrich one's reading, writing and thinking. What a fitting way to do my small part to contribute something positive to the children of the Virgin Islands."
The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, a not-for-profit agency, oversees nearly 60 named funds for the support of community causes. Last year, the foundation awarded nearly half a million dollars in grants, scholarships and services for other not-for-profits. CFVI program initiatives include the Fatherhood Collaborative, which focuses on the importance of responsible fatherhood for children and the community, and the annual Kids Count report on the economic and social status of the territory's children and families.
For more information about the foundation and its funds, visit the CFVI Web site, send an e-mail query to Dee Baecher-Brown, or call 774-6031.
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