Keeping cursive

This Sept. 16, 2009, photo shows a student practicing both printing and cursive handwriting skills in the six- to nine-year-olds classroom at the Mountaineer Montessori School in Charleston, W.Va.

It's become an era of laying down the pens and pencils, and picking up the online tools.

What that means for cursive writing is that it is fading from the instructional landscape.

With more concentration directed toward technology, sometimes penmanship is left in the dust.

Throughout Lawrence County, though, there are efforts to keep cursive writing alive to some degree.

Pennsylvania, in 2010, adopted core curriculum standards, which don't require cursive, leaving it up to school districts to decide whether to teach it.

About 12 years ago, the Neshannock Township School DIstrict established a handwriting committee to review what the experts in the field were saying and how penmanship should be taught, said Matt Heasley, principal at Neshannock Memorial Elementary School.

"We decided to teach printing or pre-cursive writing in kindergarten and first grade using the Peterson method," Heasley said.

Cursive writing then flows into the next grade levels.

While not as much time is spent on teaching the subject as it was 20 or as recent as 10 years ago, instruction is still provided, he explained. And opportunities are given for students to practice.

"Our dilemma is how much pressure we want to put on the kids but we definitely wanted to expose them to it."

Cursive writing no longer shows up as a grade on a report card but there may be a checked box indicating where improvements such as a neatness need to be made, Heasley said.

"It's a lost art," he said of penmanship. "We feel the most important reason we teach it is to be able to read it. If grandma writes the kid a card, we want the student to be able to read it."

At Union Memorial Elementary School, it is taught mainly in second grade, according to principal Linda O'Neill.

By third grade, there is directed cursive writing during the first six weeks of school, said teacher Lorraine Rice. After that, concentration needs to focus on PSSA testing, Rice said.

"There is a cursive writing dry-erase board in my class and there's time to practice, which they like to do."

Focus on directed cursive writing returns in third grade — to some degree — the last six weeks of school, too, Rice confirmed.

"We're teaching the basics so they can sign their name with a signature."

By fourth grade at Union, it's not taught anymore because the focus is on PSSA testing preparation, said fourth-grade teacher Saesan Mollenkopf.

"It has become a thing of the past and now everything is in print," Mollenkopf said. "Nothing requires them to write in cursive for testing."

Handwriting, unfortunately, she continued, is being left out.

"Teachers just don't have the time with all the other requirements."

In the New Castle Area School District, handwriting is taught in grades 3-6, according to Debra DeBlasio, assistant to the superintendent in charge of curriculum. She noted that students are graded at mid- and end-of-year periods.

"Teachers are committed to teaching it either two times a week for 30 minutes or three times a week at 20 minutes, whatever fits into their schedule," DeBlasio said, adding that parents are asked to cooperate with handwriting homework.

She recalled that when she started as an educator in the district more than 30 years ago, cursive writing was taught for 20 minutes a day.

There's less time for that now because the state places so many mandates on schools to prepare for PSSA testing, she said.

"We do recognize the need for it beyond 12th grade to read it and write it; that's why it hasn't been abandoned."

Educators acknowledge they see a value in teaching students penmanship, but with keyboarding taking the place of handwriting, finding time to work it in can be a challenge.

(Email: lpezzuto@ncnewsonline.com)

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Lugene is a former news and lifestyles reporter at the News. She retired in early 2019.

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