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School districts differ on emphasizing cursive

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ELEMENTARY schools in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. teach cursive writing because they believe it is a valuable skill, while the only elementary school in the Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. stopped teaching it two years ago to provide additional time for math and reading.

Teaching cursive is optional in Indiana schools, but if a Senate bill passes in the Indiana General Assembly, and is signed by Gov. Mike Pence, it would again be required by state law.

Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, introduced the bill for a cursive writing requirement last year to counter a law from 2011 that made teaching cursive optional in Indiana. Her bill died for lack of a House hearing. But Leising reintroduced it this session.

Senate Bill 120 passed the Senate on a 36-13 vote and awaits action in the House.

Leising said people who have approached her have been concerned that children will lose the ability not only to write cursive but also to read their grandparents’ birthday cards, historical documents and other written materials.

She said the urgency to hold on to cursive writing goes deeper than that. Studies by child psychologists show that connecting letters from left to right trains the brain to more clearly understand the written word, Leising said. Computer keyboarding is valuable in an entirely different way and should not be considered the same, she added.

“Students who take notes with notepads and pens retain more than students who keyboard them,” Leising said. “I’m not anti-electronics. I just know keyboarding has its own place.”

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. teachers and administrators agree that cursive writing is a valuable ability that must not be lost to history.

Sandy Watts, a third-grade teacher at Parkside Elementary School, said she has taught cursive writing for 33 years and believes it is a valuable skill for children. She said most of her students love to learn it.

“Technology isn’t foolproof,” Watts said. “When our computer breaks down, what are we going to do if we can’t write? How do kids learn to spell if they always have their computer spellchecks?”

Third grade is the level the school corporation has designated for cursive instruction. However, some second-grade teachers introduce it to a lesser extent in their classes.

Lydia Goodwin, a second-grade teacher at Clifty Creek Elementary School, said she believes everyone should be able to sign their name, and everyone should be able to read cursive.

She said her students are “champing at the bit” to learn the skill, which Goodwin intends to start teaching them soon. Some already know how to write their names in cursive, she said.

Teresa Heiny, director of elementary education for Bartholomew Consolidated Schools, said that although computers and mobile devices in many ways are replacing traditional handwriting, the power for someone to express oneself with the written word remains important.

She said students — even in modern times — sometimes do not have access to computers or mobile devices and occasionally need to be able to jot something down on a sticky note.

Then there’s the argument that people who can’t write in cursive probably won’t be able to read cursive either.

Parents in the Bartholomew Consolidated school system have varying thoughts about what place cursive writing has in modern communication.

Bonnie Boatwright, whose youngest son is a fifth-grader at Parkside, said she would hate to see cursive writing disappear. At the same time, she thinks it’s a less important skill these days than some of the other skills students learn, such as computer skills.

Eric Abendroth, president of the Parkside parent/teacher organization, said he has nothing against cursive. But he thinks the decision should be left up to the individual school districts.

“If this school corporation continues to do it, then that’s their decision,” he said. “I just hope that it won’t spend too much time on it and miss out on things like math and science.”

The Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. differs with Bartholomew Consolidated on the value of cursive writing.

Lisa Smith, principal of Hope Elementary School, which is the district’s only elementary, said the school’s staff and teachers decided to do away with teaching cursive writing to any substantial degree after the state made teaching it optional.

She said they preferred to use that time instead for its Response to Intervention initiative, which focuses on giving kids the instruction they need to catch up in math and reading.

“In high school, they don’t require it at a certain level because they’re using computers,” she said. “Students can develop their own ways of writing that work for them.”

However, Smith agreed that children still need to be able to read cursive writing, because it is so much a part of history. She cited the Declaration of Independence as an example.

Smith said she thinks reading cursive and writing it are two different things.

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