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: WATCH: Press conference introducing Bishop-Elect Jorge Rodriguez

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Below is a transcript of Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Bishop-Elect Jorge Rodriquez’s comments during the Aug. 25 press conference announcing Bishop-Elect Rodriguez’s new appointment as Auxiliary Bishop of Denver.

Archbishop Samuel J Aquila: Thank you very much. As all of you are aware, this morning, it was announced in Rome, noon their time, 4 a.m. our time. I got my first text message at 4:05 a.m. from Bishop Conley congratulating us on the announcement of Bishop-Elect Rodriguez. It is a moment of great joy for the Church of Northern Colorado. It has been a long time waiting for a new auxiliary, and we are truly blessed with one of our own priests. Most of you know Father Rodriguez or know of him; I have known him since 1999, when I was rector of the seminary, he came here to teach and served as vice rector with me and was extremely helpful in beginning St. John Vianney seminary.

It is with great joy that I welcome him, both as a friend and a brother, and now as a co-worker as a bishop — as auxiliary bishop here. And we are truly blessed with his Hispanic background — as most of you know, he was born in Mexico and speaks much better Spanish than I do and will be a tremendous grace and blessing for our Hispanic community, and the fact that we are over 50% Hispanic now within the archdiocese. Today is a day of great joy. His ordination will be on Nov. 4, and we look forward to that. So, without further adieu, it gives me great joy to present to you Bishop-Elect Rodriguez.

Bishop-Elect Jorge Rodriguez: Good morning everyone and thank you very much for being here. It’s meaningful, your presence, especially the seminarians; I heard that you delayed your camping trip just to be here. God bless you. We’re going to make it short, so you can go. (Laughter)

When your receive a phone call from the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington and they tell you the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has named you to be auxiliary bishop of Denver, thats a very humbling experience. What that means that the Holy Father consider me to fit for this important service to the people of God in the people of Colorado; on the other hand, I’m aware of my own personal limitations. Of course, I told them, I was telling the secretary, ‘I don’t know,’ and I remember all the jokes, no? That you have to say all the time first, “no, I don’t” and then immediately say, “yes, yes, yes!” (Laughter)

But sincerely, you feel overwhelmed; that’s a moment in which you feel overwhelmed. I’m grateful to the Holy Father for his trust in me. I’m grateful to he archbishop, as he said, was the one who invited me to come to Denver to teach theology, this is why I moved from the Diocese of Rome to the Archdiocese of Denver. And along this year in my personal ministry, I met this wonderful and faithful Catholic community we have here and lots of wonderful people on Colorado. I feel very honored to be able to live in this beautiful state and serve my brothers and sisters here in the archdiocese.

My Hispanic origin connects me particularly to the growing Hispanic community here in Denver and I’ve been able to celebrate, rejoice and to help in their needs. My only wish is to offer my ministry as auxiliary bishop — inspire, because I really find very inspiring the teaching and example of Pope Francis and under the example of the archbishop. I beg for you prayers, that’s what I really need now. I never — like today, I really feel the need of prayers now and everyday all the time throughout these years that the Lord will allow me to serve you in his name. And in everything, may Jesus Christ be praised.

Kevin Jones, CNA: Father Rodriguez, a lot of Catholics no longer go to the Catholic Church. Either they don’t go to church at all, or they go non-Catholic churches. How do you think the Archdiocese of Denver can reach out and help get Catholics back to the sacramental life?

Bishop-Elect Rodriguez: Thank you very much for your question. The archbishop, since two years ago, has been promoting among the Catholic community the formation of disciple’s journey, we can call, and the Amazing Parish in order to revitalize parishes and bring back Catholics to our pews. If I can, in my limited experience, at Holy Cross, that’s wha we are doing. We are doing this formation of disciples, we are doing this Amazing Parish project, and there’s a lot of life. I think that under [archbishop’s] direction, because he’s the one who as been inviting us to enter into this — reactivate our own communities, people will come back. Especially because people fly away, but Jesus is the one who always attracts and appeals, and as much as we present the true Jesus, I think people will come back, because they really need him.