Christian Curriculum

In age of texting, 2 Maine students honored as nation’s best cursive writers


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WOODLAND, Maine – Some students say it’s a secret code, allowing them to write notes that others, like younger siblings, can’t decipher. Teachers see it as an art form, but also as a way for students to work on fine motor skills.

Whichever way you look at it, cursive writing has lost its popularity, although it is still taught in some schools in Maine. Once a compulsory part of every program, the fluid form of handwriting that made letter writing easier has been largely replaced by modern technology.

But not everywhere.

Teachers and staff at Woodland Consolidated School in Aroostook County have worked for years to keep the art of cursive writing alive, encouraging their students to enter the annual National Zaner-Bloser Writing Competition. – the oldest handwriting competition in the country.

Their efforts paid off this year when two students received national recognition on May 20.

Debbie Sutherland, a third-grade teacher at Woodland Consolidated School, stands alongside her student, Allison St. Peter, who received national recognition for her cursive calligraphy in the National Zaner-Bloser Handwriting Competition. Credit: Chris Bouchard / Aroostook Republican & News

Third-year Allison St. Peter has been recognized for having the best cursive writing among third-graders in public and private schools across the country. Grade 7 student Christian Vargas is this year’s national winner of the Nicholas Maxim Award. They were among the more than 80,000 applicants that Zaner-Bloser receives each year from across the United States.

The Nicholas Maxim Prize is named after a student from Maine who was born without hands and forearms, and offers students who have difficulty with handwriting the opportunity to show off their writing skills. Entries are judged on the shape, size, slant and spacing of letters. Each year, they nominate two national champions in manuscript and in cursive.

Christian Vargas, a seventh-grade student at Woodland Consolidated School, was the national winner of this year’s Nicholas Maxim Award, which is presented through the Zaner-Bloser National Writing Competition to students with special needs who demonstrate of excellence in writing. Credit: Courtesy of Woodland Consolidated School

“Students aren’t as used to working with their hands as they are with their thumbs,” said third-grade teacher Debbie Sutherland. “So I try to teach this skill because it helps them develop their fine motor skills, and it’s something they can be proud of. They think it’s like a foreign language, and it really isn’t. It’s just an art that has been lost.

This isn’t the first time that Woodland students have been recognized nationally for their cursive writing skills. In 2017, seventh-year student Amanda Poulin was named a national semifinalist in the competition, and in 2011, Richard Schmitt Jr. was named the seventh-year Grand National Handwriting Champion.

The winning students didn’t know they had won until Woodland Principal Susie Schloeman presented them with their prizes at a ceremony outside of the school.

“I want to thank our teachers for instilling the importance of having good calligraphy because everyone should have their own signature,” she said. “By doing cursive, you create a piece of your identity with your handwriting. I know a lot of our students will be moving to other districts or to high school, and when they leave here they should know this skill.

Students and teachers gather for an awards ceremony at Woodland Consolidated School, during which two students received national recognition for their cursive skills in the National Zaner-Bloser Handwriting Competition. Credit: Chris Bouchard / Aroostook Republican & News

Sutherland said it was heartbreaking to learn that his student, Allison St. Peter, had received national recognition for his calligraphy, adding that it was quite an achievement for the class.

“They all have wonderful handwriting, so I don’t judge them. I collect the entries, I ask them to fix some things, and then we mask the names for other people to judge different classes, ”she said.

Alexandra Lord, a special education teacher, said her student Christian Vargas did not want to enter the competition this year.

“He got very frustrated, crumpled his entrance and we made several copies. It was a great story that had such a happy ending, and he’s actually very grateful to have been involved. He’s quite an artist, which goes well with that because the cursive is very artistic, ”she says.

The students wrote the sentence “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”, which contains all the letters of the alphabet. Lord said Vargas was laughing at the phrase when he submitted his last entry.

Third-year Woodland Consolidated School student Allison St. Peter’s participation in the Zaner-Bloser National Writing Competition was recognized as having the best cursive writing among third-year students in public and private schools nationwide . Credit: Courtesy of Woodland Consolidated School

“He was like, ‘I never want to talk about a brown fox again!’ He’s got a great sense of humor,” Lord said.

Prior to entering the competition, schools across the country hold their own handwriting competitions, and a winner from each level is then chosen to enter the state competition. Zaner-Bloser then chooses the top two entries from each year – one each from a public and private school – where they qualify for the national competition.

Zaner-Bloser is a subsidiary of Highlights for Children that focuses on language arts and literacy education programs and resources. The organization has held a national handwriting competition since 1981 to celebrate the importance of handwriting and cursive writing, and to celebrate students across the country for their abilities.

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