The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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April 6, 2013

The write stuff? Area educators draw lines on subject

JOHNSTOWN — Teaching children to write in cursive may be falling by the wayside in favor of digital keyboarding skills, but local school officials believe it’s still important for children to possess the ability to write.

George Nace, principal at St. Benedict Catholic School in Geistown, said he doesn’t see the school abandoning teaching handwriting. In fact, it’s something that is encouraged and required at certain grade levels.

“I do understand the push to do away with it and it’s not a skill as relevant as it used to be, but students still need to be exposed to it and be able to read things that they may come across,” he said.

Pupils have handwriting classes through fifth grade and begin learning cursive writing in second grade.

“We have students in grades one through five who enter the Zaner-Bloser Handwriting Contest and we had a second-grader who won at the state and national level this year,” Nace said.

He added that if kids don’t learn how to read and write in cursive, it could become a foreign language to them.

“Some don’t like learning it, but it’s something they need to do,” Nace said.

At St. Michael School in Loretto, pupils take a handwriting class for 15 minutes each day.

“It would be a big mistake to get rid of it because I personally feel handwriting is an important skill students need to learn,” Principal Judy Noel said.

Pupils in kindergarten through third grade receive the most instruction. Those in grades four through six have handwriting skills incorporated into language arts, spelling and grammar lessons and pupils in grades seven and eight work at a more independent level to hone their skills.

“It is very much a part of our curriculum and school day,” Noel said.

She said cursive writing is a complex skill that involves the mind and body and is a means of communication.

“I know what they say about technology and keyboarding, but not all kids type quickly, and how can they take notes if they don’t know how to write?” Noel asked. “I feel strongly that it plays an important role in kids succeeding in school.”

Vincent DiLeo, superintendent of Cental Cambria School District, said the district isn’t pulling away from teaching cursive writing, but it isn’t promoting it either.

“We’ve incorporated it into lesson plans, and it’s not taught as a separate standalone subject,” he said.

He said the time factor is a stumbling block to teaching writing skills, adding that teachers are focusing more time on preparing pupils for the PSSA and Keystone exams.

“In third grade we start to wean students from printing and more toward cursive writing,” DiLeo said.

He said he’s noticed students in the middle and high schools are choosing to write in cursive because it’s faster, so the skill is being learned.

“We can’t pay as much attention to health, so it’s been integrated into the sciences, and writing into other areas. That’s the best way to learn,” DiLeo said.

But he believes teaching penmanship shouldn’t be completely eliminated because people still need the skill regardless of how much technology is out there.

“You have to sign a check, mortgage or car loan because you can’t print your name, so you need to have a cursory knowledge,” DiLeo said.

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