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: David Card and his goals for Regis Jesuit High School

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For David Card, sending his children to a Catholic school was an easy decision.

“I think there’s something fundamental and holistic about bringing your faith and your spirituality into your full development process,” he said. “I’ve never considered anything else for my kids.”

In August, Card began to serve as the first lay president of Regis Jesuit High School, and second alumnus in the role (Class of 1987). In his new role, Card says he hopes he can make the possibility of an education at Regis a “real option” for qualified students with little financial resources.

Card replaces Rick Sullivan, who served as interim president of Regis Jesuit since Father Paul Sheridan resigned from the post due to health issues at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year.

Card worked as Director of Development at the school from 1999 to 2003, and has served on Regis’ board of trustees for the past year.

Most recently, he served as president of Escuela de Guadalupe, a dual-language Catholic elementary school in Denver. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Colorado Denver and a bachelor’s degree from Regis University in Denver.

Denver Catholic sat down with Card, to speak with him about his new role, the school, and his philosophy on Catholic education.

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Denver Catholic: What are the emotions that come to mind in coming back to your alma-mater to serve as its President?

David Card:  I’m excited for sure. Through Ignatian spirituality, the spirituality given to us by our founder, St. Ignatius, one of the things that’s really been internalized by me is this idea of indifference. That it’s not really what I want, but “Where is it that I am to be?” I’ve had that feeling about Regis for a long time. So there’s a contentedness with that. Certainly, in reality I know it’s a big job, so I’m excited, and there’s also some anxiousness, but the support I’ve received from the community has been enormous.

Denver Catholic: Would you mind elaborating on the foundational pillars that a student at Regis Jesuit will be formed in upon graduation?

David Card: I think (the pillars) really reflect the kind of inquiry that we want our students to engage in. This is all in the foundational spirituality of our Catholic Church and our Ignatian tradition. One of the things Regis really excels at, and Jesuit education excels at, is it provides wonderful pathways, especially for adolescents, to develop an authentic relationship with God.

Also, through the process of discernment what we’re trying to develop is a listening skill in our students. . . This way, they can listen for the signs and ways in which God is calling them to be and to serve. They have many opportunities to explore their gifts and talents, to be really cognoscente of the larger community and the world they live in. Also, they have the opportunity to have real practice in service so they can animate their lives with that service.

Denver Catholic: What are your future goals for Regis Jesuit?

David Card: We adopted a strategic plan on the board a little over a year ago. Excellence, which pertains to our students, to our faculty, and our facilities is one of the pillars. We really want to focus on the inclusiveness of Regis in terms of its diversity. . .We constantly have work to do in maintaining and developing infrastructure for the school, strengthening our financial resources, and get better at marketing who we are and what we do.

I think in general I want to imagine a school that any family who desires especially a faith-formative, rigorous education and thinks “I want my kid to go there” also feels like that’s a real possibility. I’m not sure that’s true right now. So, I really want to work on that. . . I think the most important thing is to continue what we’re doing here and ensuring that our people are exposed to our Jesuit Catholic tradition and that they’re preparing to bring that forth into the world.”

Denver Catholic: Speaking through your experience, what is necessary to propel Catholic education as we continue into the 21st century?

David Card: I think we have to be intentional about our mission. I think we have to be ever more creative in the way that we convey that. I think our culture can be challenging for that. At the same time, we have to continue to recognize that God is present in our culture.

I think on a practical level, the biggest challenge facing Catholic education is financial accessibility. We wrestle with that here (at Regis) and we’ve got a lot of work to do to ensure that really any student who’s academically qualified, along with the parents of that student, feel like this is a real option for them. We do a lot to support that but certainly, we have to do more. There’s always a constant tension between having a quality faculty and putting the resources in place for that to occur, and then having a tuition rate and a financial aid program that can really be accessible to every family.

Denver Catholic: With so many options that parents have in educating their children, why Catholic education?

David Card: I think there’s something fundamental and holistic about bringing your faith and your spirituality into your full development process. To me it is, I’ve never considered anything else for my kids. So I do think that more and more families are hungering for that. Even if they don’t have a faith tradition, they’re concerned about the lack of boundaries for the development for their child.

We’ve always been strong academically. Kids get an excellent college prep education at Regis but if it were just that, we wouldn’t be all that distinctive. I think it really is engaging kids in service, having them really look at themselves and try to figure out “How is it that I am and is there really an opportunity for me to hear where I’m called to be?”