It's the 15th anniversary of Dictionary Days in Long Beach.

To celebrate the occasion, the Long Beach Public Library (LBPL) Foundation has been hosting themed Dictionary Days celebrations all month at different libraries in the city.

“Dictionary Days embody my favorite part of our work," Kate Azar, executive director at the LBPL Foundation, said. "Seeing kids get excited about activities that you know they are also learning from and enjoying themselves and gaining real skills makes my job worth doing."

In 2003, the LBPL Foundation partnered with the Earl B. and Loraine H. Miller Foundation to promote literacy amongst students in the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD). To help accomplish their goal, the groups began passing out dictionaries to every third grader in the district — a tradition that continues today.

Dictionary Days 2017

Students pose with their dictionaries at a Dictionary Days event in 2017.

"If a student enters third grade without being at reading level, the impacts on their lives could be severe," Azar said. "That's why this program is so important."

Consequences of illiteracy can manifest beyond the classroom, Azar added. Students who are not able to read at grade level are more likely to find themselves in trouble as they grow into adulthood.

"You can find so many different studies on the impact of a person's reading ability and the likelihood to end up in trouble with the law," she said. "If you can't read, it impacts how well you do in school and what kind of jobs you can get when you're older."

Since the program began, more than 100,000 dictionaries have been provided to students, and Azar said that she hopes that number continues to grow.

"Its all about literacy and getting more kids into our libraries," she said. "There are kids in high school now who still have their dictionary — this has real longevity."

Dictionary Days 2017

Students view their new dictionary provided by the LBPL Foundation and the Earl B. and Loraine H. Miller Foundation.

The LBPL Foundation offers more than dictionaries to elementary school students. The foundation has been expanding its reach within the community by providing STEAM-related workshops, a mobile design studio and special programming for families.

However, Azar said that she's concerned about the future of the program, as well as the libraries. Currently, the Earl B. and Loraine H. Miller Foundation are the sole funders of the foundation's dictionary gifts.

"The library is still severely underfunded," she said. "If we’re going to be able to serve the more than one million people who come to our libraries every year, we will need the support of city funding, as well as private philanthropy."

But in the meantime, there is still one more Dictionary Days event to celebrate.

Parents and their third graders can attend the foundation's free enchanted garden-themed event from noon to 2 p.m. this Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library, 5870 Atlantic Ave.

The event will have games, prizes and dictionaries for the youngsters.

"Third grade is really an important milestone for students," Azar said. "Its where they begin to switch from learning to read to reading to learn."

For more information on the Long Beach Public Library Foundation, go to LBPLfoundation.org.

Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at sstutzman@gazettes.com

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