- Associated Press - Saturday, February 13, 2016

BEAVER, Pa. (AP) - It’s just after lunch at Hopewell Area School District’s Independence Elementary School and Roni Albanese’s second-grade class is hard at work.

The 18 children sit up straight at their desks, practicing proper posture as they guide pencils smoothly across lined workbook pages, forming the sweeping loops of newly mastered cursive letters.

Albanese uses rhymes and songs to help her students memorize the curling letters, and each lesson is carefully designed for fun as well as function.

“I love to teach handwriting,” Albanese said. “It’s my favorite subject to teach.”

But curriculum has become more rigorous over the years, and there is less time to spend learning cursive. This year, second-graders practice writing for only 10 to 15 minutes every day, Albanese said.

Shifting focus

In 2010, Pennsylvania adopted PA Core curriculum standards, which don’t require cursive, leaving it up to school districts to decide whether to teach it. The standards align with the Common Core guidelines adopted by 42 states and the District of Columbia.

Local teachers and administrators say they still devote class time to penmanship instruction, with cursive introduced in second or third grade. But more rigorous curriculum standards and a growing emphasis on technology leave less time for penmanship instruction, even for those who want to teach it.

This is true in Hopewell, where more and more classroom time is spent learning technology, such as publishing digital texts and mastering online tools, Assistant Superintendent Jacie Maslyk said.

“(Handwriting) is addressed less and less because of the demands of the standards and assessment requirements,” she said.

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.

Until about seven years ago, Blackhawk children learned cursive in second grade, said Jodi Borroni, a second-grade teacher at the district’s Northwestern Primary. Today cursive instruction has been pushed back to third grade, and Borroni said she’s hesitant to let her students write in cursive without formal instruction.

“Cursive handwriting is an art form,” Borroni said. “Letter formation needs to be taught. As a result, they are creating bad habits that will be hard to break. I am not opposed to cursive handwriting. I am opposed to bad handwriting.”

Rochester Area fifth-grade teacher Kathy McGuire has been teaching elementary school in the district for 20 years, and she says students struggle to read cursive and write legibly as penmanship takes a backseat to other areas of curriculum.

“Some students can’t even read “great job” on a paper,” she said.

Handwriting was part of Rochester’s curriculum when McGuire taught third grade during her first 12 years in the district, she said.

Today cursive isn’t officially taught, although “many of our teachers do try to include cursive writing into their curriculum” usually in the spring of third grade, Superintendent Jane Bovalino said.

The decline in class time spent on cursive seems to be a national trend. A 2013 survey conducted by teacher supplies retailer Really Good Stuff showed that of 612 elementary school teachers surveyed, only 41 percent incorporate cursive into their curriculum.

West Allegheny’s elementary curriculum has shifted away from cursive, mainly to ensure time for more rigorous literacy lessons, Assistant Superintendent Christine Assetta said. Third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students used to be required to complete assignments in cursive, but now can print if they choose, she said.

“Teachers fit in cursive handwriting lessons as time permits, but it is not a priority,” Asseta said.

Writing on

As school districts work to strike a balance between technology and longhand, penmanship proponents are pushing to keep cursive in the classroom. In states like Arkansas, Tennessee and North and South Carolina, lawmakers have passed legislation making handwriting instruction mandatory.

In Beaver County, some districts still try to prioritize handwriting. Aliquippa School District teaches and reinforces cursive in grades two through five, Superintendent Dave Wytiaz said, and seventh-grader Jasmine Washington won first place in Zaner-Bloser’s National Handwriting Contest in 2013.

“Cursive writing is a key component in the development of learning motor skills,” Wytiaz said. “Studies have shown that writing in cursive generally helps students retain more information and generate more ideas.”

Districts like Western Beaver and Cornell also try to maintain an emphasis on penmanship.

Cornell teaches cursive in second and third grade, recognizing it as an important life skill, elementary principal Jeffrey Carter said. The district tries to keep a balance between handwriting and keyboarding.

Western Beaver’s students also learn cursive in second and third grade, practically applying it later, Superintendent Rob Postupac said.

“In other parts of the curriculum students are expected to read cursive,” Postupac said, adding that learning cursive can help children with certain learning disabilities. “For example many historical documents that are discussed in social studies are written in cursive and it is important that the students can interpret them.”

Back in Albanese’s classroom, children gleefully copy cursive letters onto workbook pages, unconcerned with anything beyond the excitement of learning something new.

“The ‘O’ is my favorite letter to do,” second-grader Annaliese Schultz said.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1nG4ZXd

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Information from: Beaver County Times, http://www.timesonline.com/

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