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Up to the Challenge


All is quiet during handwriting practice time in Stephanie Horton’s classroom at Ina Arbuckle Elementary School. Tiny hands glide across neon paper to produce something not seen in public school settings for more than a decade: cursive handwriting.

The elementary school standard many adults remember as part of their childhood experience was removed from the curriculum more than a decade ago. Now it’s back. A new California law that went into effect in January brought the old standard back for elementary school students.

Ms. Horton at a student's desk while they practice their cursive skillsStudents in grades TK-2 are taught lessons on printing and letter formation. Initial cursive instruction begins in third grade and those lessons continue, as needed in grades 4-6.

In Ms. Horton’s class, formal lessons are given once a week, combined with daily independent practice. So far, handwriting has been a positive addition, she said.

“The biggest thing is that their handwriting is actually better,… with cursive than it is with print,” Ms. Horton said. “ A lot of them are definitely more inclined to write cursive. They really enjoy it.”

Cursive writing is challenging, she said, adding that the hardest thing for students is “having the stamina to write it, keep their pencil down, and follow through on the strokes and go completely through.”

“Even just writing a sentence it’s a little hard for them because it’s a new way of writing.”

a student practicing their cursive skills by writing positive affirmationsMs. Horton makes the experience a positive one by playing soft music during practice time. Instead of newsprint practice pages of the past, Ms. Horton’s students write on brightly-colored neon pages. 

The content has changed, too. Instead of “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog,” students write positive affirmations.

“Something I strive to do in here is to really create a positive climate. We always say positive affirmations before testing. It has improved their confidence going into tests, so I just wanted to have something that they can use if they’re feeling down…they are the ones that are  responsible for writing it, so they take some ownership of it as well.”

Students said they are enjoying the process.​

“It helps me learn and it helps me be focused.” said Emily Marquecho, whose favorite cursive letter to write is the lowercase “a”. 

“S is hard for me, because…I have to do like a line at the top,” she said.

Classmate Cassie Lenoir likes to craft the letter “C”. 

 “It starts my name and I like it because it’s easy to do,” she said.

two students holding up their cursive sheets in classThe hardest, she said, is “z”. 

“I just can’t make it straight enough,” she said.

Classmate Annalee Ortiz Lopez agrees that “z” is the hardest, but is up for the challenge.

“I’m proud of learning cursive, that I’m trying new things,” she said. “When I’m older I might need it in life because if I want to get like a job or something, you might need cursive.”

She has this advice for others learning new skills:

“If you can’t do something yet, just believe in yourself. You can whisper to yourself, ‘You can do it. I’m proud of myself.’ That’s what I do.”