Writing off cursive? Not in Catholic schools

Nissa LaPoint
Regina Hombs works with third-grader Claire Begler at All Souls School in Englewood
during a lesson on cursive writing.

The writing may be on the wall for cursive. But Denver Catholic schools refuse to type up its obituary.

While more of the nation’s public schools adopt standards lacking cursive requirements, educators in the Denver Archdiocese said they won’t write it off.

“It is dying even in the state of Colorado,” said Mary Cohen, associate superintendent of the Office of Catholic Schools. “But we’re committed to teaching children in the art of cursive writing.”cursive 2

Forty-five states, including Colorado, have adopted through its state legislature or school boards the new Common Core State Standards for English, a framework for education standards that rarely mentions handwriting—stylistically referring to both print and cursive styles—and excludes cursive altogether.

“We’re focusing less on writing and more about the content of what they’re writing about in preparation for college and a career,” said Melissa Colsman, executive director of teaching and learning for the Colorado Department of Education.

While school districts may choose to teach cursive, state standards don’t require it, she added.

The antiquated skill, opponents say, is unnecessary in an increasingly digitally-centric world and waste of classroom time better spent on other academic subjects.

Proponents counter that beyond its historical significance, cursive boosts motor skills, brain development and correlates with academic achievement. Cohen said cursive is a timeless skill which shows reverence and enhances dignity.

In the midst of debates, Denver Archdiocese Catholic school administrators are revising its curriculum—completed every five years—for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Cursive objectives will be maintained and a required skill by the end of third grade.

“Given the research we have, we’re going to keep it,” Cohen said.

Literacy skills

Keeping cursive in schools has literary benefits. According to research presented at the January 2012 “Handwriting in  he 21st Century?: An Educational Summit” in Washington, D.C., oral and written language is interconnected to effective communication.

Educational psychology professor Virginia Berninger of the University of Washington said she found second-,fourth- and sixth-graders who used handwriting wrote more words, wrote faster and expressed more ideas than those using keyboarding. A separate examination of 144 pupils revealed improved handwriting correlated with improved reading skills, word recognition, compositional abilities and memory.

Third-grade teacher Regina Hombs of All Souls School in Englewood is adamant about teaching the dying skill.

She said cursive, especially for special needs children, makes it “easier for them to recognize a word rather than a bunch of letters.”

The flow of cursive aids in pronunciation, too, she said.

Cognitive and motor benefits

Handwriting also supports brain function.

“When we (handwrite), there’s something happening neurologically that’s beneficial,” Cohen said.

In a research study, Indiana University’s Karin James, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences, found the act of writing by hand caused a significant increase in children’s brain activation. Using an fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) brain scan, James showed students who wrote well engaged more of their brain’s visual regions than typing.

Recognizing its importance, Catholic teachers on the Office of Catholic School’s curriculum committee board gave  unanimous approval for its continued use in the classroom.

Enhancing humanity

Hombs said she’s noted learning cursive will boost her student’s emotional development.

“They’re very proud it,” she said when her students handwrite. “It’s very good for self esteem. Now they’re writing

like an adult.”

Cursive also contributes to intimacy and is considered proper etiquette for occasions like sending thank you notes and birthday cards.

“People think we don’t need this anymore because we have technology, but we still want to able to write in cursive. It’s polite to handwrite a note because it’s a way of reverencing them,” Cohen said. “You leave your DNA on paper.”

Cursive, she said, will stay in Catholic schools.

“It’s really an important part of our humanity.”

COMING UP: St. Louis students lend a helping hand to Haiti

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In 2010, a devastating earthquake ravaged Haiti. Just a few months ago, Hurricane Matthew ripped through Haiti, further damaging a country that was in the process of rebuilding. Haiti’s need for help is as pressing and dire as ever.

Students from one local Catholic school are taking the lead and working to raise money to help Haiti from afar. For the 8th grade class of St. Louis Catholic School in Louisville, doing what they can for the people of Haiti isn’t just an act of Christian charity; it’s an act of love toward a people whom they consider to be like an extended family.

The story begins with St. Louis parishioner Wynn Walent, who works for the St. Luke Foundation, a Catholic humanitarian organization founded by Father Rick Frechette in 2000 that’s based in Haiti. Walent lived in Haiti for two years, and while down there in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, he came to know two boys, Vlad and Belony. After a time, Walent decided to adopt the boys.

In 2012, St. Louis and then-principal Karen Herlihy opened the school’s doors to the Haitian boys without hesitation when Walent brought them back to the U.S., and thus began a relationship that has since affected the teachers and students of St. Louis in profound ways, not to mention the lives of Vlad and Belony. Vlad is now in 7th grade, and Belony just started his first year of high school.

“Since day one the staff, students and families of St. Louis have welcomed the boys with open arms,” Walent said. “It’s a very generous community.”

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St. Louis Catholic School in Louisville has a link to Haiti through two of its students, Vlad (pictured) and Belony, who were adopted by St. Louis parishioner and philanthropist Wynn Walent. The 8th grade class, with the help of the whole school, hopes to raise $5,000 by the end of the school year to donate to the St. Luke Foundation, a Catholic humanitarian organization based in Haiti. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

The boys have made quite an impression on the the students and teachers of St. Louis. No matter who you ask, they’ll all say that Vlad and Belony “are very humble and have big hearts.” Not only that, many of the students are quick to point out that they’re incredibly talented soccer players.

Ultimately, the students said, Vlad and Belony are like family to the St. Louis community, and they want to help them and their brothers and sisters back in Haiti.

During the school year, each class at St. Louis is required to carry some sort of outreach or stewardship project. With a tangible connection to Haiti through Vlad and Belony, the 8th grade class began brainstorming ways they could help those affected by the hurricane. While the 8th graders are currently leading the charge, they hope for it to become a school-wide initiative, with the goal of establishing a more long-term relationship between St. Louis and the St. Luke Foundation.

We’re in such a self-centered world, and I love the idea of kids helping kids and feeling good that they can make a difference in somebody else’s world.”

“We’re always looking to see how we can get our children to be involved in projects that take them away from themselves,” St. Louis principal Kathy Byrnes told the Denver Catholic. “We’re in such a self-centered world, and I love the idea of kids helping kids and feeling good that they can make a difference in somebody else’s world.”

Luckily for them, they have a direct line to Haiti and the St. Luke Foundation through Walent, Vlad and Belony. Walent can articulate the needs of the foundation to the students, and they can raise the money accordingly. Their goal is to raise $5,000 by the end of the school year to donate to St. Luke, but they hope to exceed that goal. As of this writing, they’ve raised nearly $3,000.

The school has also started a Razoo crowdfunding page for anybody to donate to, and one of the first donors was none other than Belony.

The St. Luke Foundation started with simple clinics in 2000 and has since grown to entail two hospitals, three clinics and 32 schools. They provide jobs for 1,000 Haitian people, and Walent said that it is 100 percent Haitian led. The organization empowers the Haitian people to help themselves and provides them the necessary resources to do so.

The resolve of the St. Louis Catholic School to raise money to give to Haiti is a testament to their reputation of being, as Byrnes says, “The little school with the big heart.”

More information

To learn more about Father Rick Frechette, the founder of St. Luke, visit http://www.stlukehaiti.org/watch

To learn about St. Louis’ efforts to support St. Luke, visit stlukehaiti.org/stlouis

To contact Wynn Walent about the work in Haiti, please email wynn.walent@stlukehaiti.org