State Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, stood before the classroom of more than 100 third-grade students and leafed through his Webster's Dictionary for Students.
"Do you think the word, 'blog' is in here?" Kooyenga asked the children, who shouted either 'yes!' or 'no!' before flipping through the pages of their new dictionaries.
For nearly a minute, students scoured the dictionaries for 'blog' before Kooyenga announced that the word was not listed. The naysayers shouted in triumph.
"So that's an example of a word that's not an acceptable English word right now, but ... maybe next time it will be in the dictionary, because words are added all the time," Kooyenga explained.
Kooyenga visited Burleigh Elementary School last week as part of the reading initiative Dictionaries for Success from the AT&T Wisconsin Pioneers, a local organization of volunteer AT&T employees and retirees that promote community causes. Students received their own free dictionaries through the program, which donated 8,500 dictionaries to more than 130 schools in Wisconsin this year.
"(The program) offers two opportunities in one," Kooyenga said, once the class had been dismissed. "We're telling kids about words and the meaning of words, and I think that, especially for someone in public office, you have to use your words very, very carefully.
"The message for the kids is: use your words in the right way and words can mean different things."
Kooyenga taught the children how to use the dictionary and guided them through the books with word searches, fueled by trinket prizes for the quickest eyes.
"They're at that age when they're learning to read...and when they run across a word (they don't know), they can look it up instead of skimming over it," Kooyenga said.
The state representative also spoke briefly about government and the importance of words in the lawmaking process. Attorneys need dictionaries to write laws and judges need them to clarify the words, he explained to the class.
"I think (dictionaries) are vital in the school today, because they still go through the learning process and are doing a lot of writing at this stage," said Jennifer McCafferty, of AT&T Business Marketing. "With that writing, you want to make sure you're spelling it correctly ... and they're not always on the Internet, so the dictionary is a great tool."
Schools in Waterloo, Watertown, Waukesha, Muskego, Oconomowoc, Cudahy, Green Bay and Eau Claire also will benefit from the program this year.
"Today's event was a great opportunity for our students to meet their state representative and learn about the legislative process," said Teresa Curley, principal of Burleigh Elementary School. "It was also a neat way to introduce our third-graders to the dictionary, a wonderful educational tool they will use throughout their academic careers. Partnerships with volunteers like the AT&T Pioneers really make a positive impact on education and a positive difference for children."
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