Education
4:57 pm
Mon April 8, 2013

Cursive Club Tries To Keep Handwriting Alive

Originally published on Mon April 8, 2013 9:59 pm

Cursive handwriting is disappearing from the list of required courses at U.S. schools, so one New Jersey grandmother is making sure her grandson's schoolmates know how to loop their Ls and curl their Qs.

At first, 45 students signed up for the cursive club that Sylvia Hughes founded last fall at Nellie K. Parker Elementary School. But then the club grew to 60 8- and 9-year olds.

Some states require cursive handwriting instruction, but in New Jersey, it's optional. That was news to Hughes. "I was shocked because every legal document requires a signature. And do we expect the parents to teach it? Do we expect kids to learn on their own?" Hughes says.

Hughes says she learned this while helping her grandson with his homework. She asked Principal Lillian Whitaker why cursive handwriting wasn't part of the curriculum. "It's not that we don't want to. It's just that with all the state mandates, we don't have time," Whitaker says.

Mike Yaple of the New Jersey School Boards Association says the state adopted the Common Core State Standards Initiative to provide consistent learning requirements for students across the nation. Common Core has been adopted by nearly every state and the District of Columbia, and the standards don't require cursive.

"Even New Jersey's state standards have said students are expected to write legibly in manuscript or cursive, but there really never was a mandate for cursive to be taught in all schools," Yaple says.

Students are now required to take nine subjects in preparation for a state-issued standardized test this spring. He says many people support teaching cursive handwriting to improve eye-hand coordination and teach students how to understand documents in cursive.

"But when push comes to shove, some parents might want their child to have an edge when it comes to other subjects like technology or speaking a second language," Yaple says. "And that's when you see the push toward fewer hours for cursive."

Hughes says it made the students happy. "When I come to the school now for different programs they have, they come up to me and say, 'Hi, Miss Hughes.' I mean, it really does my heart well," Hughes says.

Alexandra Solomon, 9, says the feeling is mutual. "Ms. Hughes is kind of like my hero, sort of, because without her I wouldn't be able to write cursive and I wouldn't be able to read cursive," Solomon says.

Parent Helen Burgos remembers spending 45 minutes a day learning cursive in parochial school. She didn't hesitate to sign up her daughter for the club.

"I do things the old-fashioned way. I do not pay my bills online. I still write thank you letters instead of sending an email," Burgos says.

By popular demand, Hughes and her cursive club will return in September.

Copyright 2013 Newark Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wbgo.org.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

The loopy F, the jaunty R, the swooping lines connecting the letters. Cursive is sometimes considered antiquated now that digital communication has taken over. But one grandmother in New Jersey is taking matters into her own hands and teaching cursive to kids. From member station WBGO in Newark, Monica Miller has the story.

MONICA MILLER, BYLINE: Afterschool activities like dance troupe and chorus are facing stiff competition at the Nellie K. Parker Elementary School in Hackensack. The Cursive Club is in high demand by third grade students, like Jahnavi Yandapalli.

JAHNAVI YANDAPALLI: When you write in cursive, it's easy to write faster because you don't have to take your hand off the paper to write. You just write all the words together.

MILLER: At first, 45 students signed up, but then the club grew to 60 8- and 9-year-olds willing to sit in class for one hour a week after school to learn how to hold their pencils and loop their L's and curl their Q's. Donna Petrinwall is a third grade teacher.

DONNA PETRINWALL: I, at first, was shocked that there would be a cursive club because we also have other clubs which are a little more entertaining where they're learning like instruments or they have chorus where it's a little more active. A Cursive Club is a little more sedentary where you're, you know, copying a letter.

MILLER: Some states require cursive handwriting instruction, but in New Jersey, it's optional, which was news to Sylvia Hughes.

SYLVIA HUGHES: I was shocked because every legal document requires a signature. And do we expect the parents to teach it? Do we expect kids to learn on their own?

MILLER: Hughes says she learned this while helping her grandson with his homework. She asked principal Lillian Whitaker why cursive handwriting wasn't a part of the curriculum.

LILLIAN WHITAKER: It's not that we don't want to. It's just that with all the state mandates, we don't have time.

MILLER: Mike Yaple from the New Jersey School Boards Association says the state adopted the Common Core State Standards Initiative to provide consistent learning requirements for students across the nation.

MIKE YAPLE: Even New Jersey's state standards have said students are expected to write legibly in manuscript or cursive, but there really never was a mandate for cursive to be taught in all schools.

MILLER: Students are now required to take nine subjects in preparation of a state-issued standardized test this spring. He says many people support teaching cursive handwriting to improve eye-hand coordination and teach students how to understand documents in cursive.

YAPLE: But when push comes to shove, some parents might want their child to have an edge when it comes to other subjects like technology or speaking a second language. And that's when you see the push toward fewer hours for cursive.

MILLER: But Cursive Club founder Sylvia Hughes says it made the students happy.

HUGHES: And when I come to the school now for the different programs they have, they (unintelligible), hi, Ms. Hughes. And I mean, it really does my heart well.

MILLER: Nine-year-old Alexandria Solomon says the feeling is mutual.

ALEXANDRIA SOLOMON: Ms. Hughes is kind of like my hero, sort of, because without her, I wouldn't be able to write cursive, and I wouldn't be able to read cursive.

MILLER: Helen Burgos remembers spending 45 minutes a day learning cursive in parochial school. She didn't hesitate signing up her daughter for the club.

HELEN BURGOS: I do things the old-fashioned way. I do not pay my bills online. I still write thank you letters instead of sending an email.

MILLER: By popular demand, Hughes and her Cursive Club will return in September at the Hackensack elementary school. For NPR News, I'm Monica Miller. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.