PITTSBURG -- What's in a dictionary besides lots of words?

A chance to learn how to use one, and third-graders in the Pittsburg Unified School District now have that opportunity. It's made possible by a long-standing effort of the Pittsburg Rotary Club to promote literacy and teach kids the importance of using a dictionary to find the meaning of words.

Since 1996, the club has donated new hardback copies of American Heritage Children's Dictionary to third-graders in the district to help promote literacy and learning. Dictionaries are also presented to third-graders who attend St. Peter Martyr and Christian Center School in Pittsburg.

The program has additional benefits in a school district that has many students who come from Hispanic families where English may not be the primary language spoken in the home.

"The dictionary becomes a valuable resource and tool for the entire family, where many parents do not speak English. For some children who don't have one in the home, this is the first time they have seen a dictionary," said Diana Mason, a Rotary Club member who chairs the club's dictionary program.

"The expressions on the faces of the children and their words of thanks are the rewards for the philanthropic efforts of the adults," district Superintendent Linda Rondeau said in an email.

Like many schools struggling with reduced funding over the years, the district does not have funds available to buy dictionaries for third-graders. So the donated dictionaries also help teachers meet educational goals.

"We talk to teachers, and one of the benchmarks for third-graders is to learn how to use the dictionary," Mason said. "That's when they start applying knowledge in the classroom, and using the dictionary furthers that."

In all, the club presented 1,000 dictionaries to third-graders in the district and the two private schools during the 2012 school year.

The $10,000 annual cost of the program is funded by a grant from the Keller Canyon Mitigation Fund and club contributions.

And how does one get all those heavy dictionaries to the classroom to give to the students?

"We also partner with Pittsburg Disposal. They help us deliver the dictionaries. They are very, very heavy," Mason said.

Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.