Huber Street School student Michelle Tang, a fifth grader, seems to have good penmanship in her blood. Two years ago, her sister won a state-level championship for her ability to write legibly. This year, Michelle Tang not only won a state-level championship for her steady hand and readable script, but she has become the first student in the state of New Jersey to move onto the national level and return home with a prize.
Tang's penmanship was judged tops in the state and among the best of nearly 110,000 students in the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada who entered a handwriting contest this year sponsored by a textbook publisher and pen manufacturer, Zaner-Bloser Company. Four other Huber Street School students also finished tops in the state in their respective categories.
The Zaner-Bloser Company, based in Columbus, Ohio, sponsored the contest, which was established to emphasize the importance of developing good handwriting early.
"Teachers tell us the contest motivates students to do their best," said Georgianna Harvey, spokesperson for Zaner-Bloser.
In 19th century the Zaner-Bloser Company emphasized the importance of a good general education as well as clear and precise penmanship at a time when ornamental writing was popular - but often unreadable. The Zaner-Bloser Company offered courses in penmanship, published professional materials about handwriting and illustration, and sold handwriting supplies.
In the annual contest, national grade-level champions are awarded $500 savings bonds. They, along with their teachers and principals, also receive a desktop pen and holder. In addition, their schools receive a number of prizes including championship plates. The schools win $100 gift certificates for company products.
The company started the contest about 12 years ago to recognize good handwriting and to rekindle enthusiasm in penmanship, said Richard Northup of Zaner-Bloser. The company had heard from teachers, parents and businesspeople about poor handwriting.
According to a survey done by the company of various professions, nearly 90 percent of executives reported being unable to read their employees' handwriting. The journal of the American Medical Association reported as much as 58 percent of information on hospital charts is not legible. The U.S. Post Office has reported that illegibly addressed letters cost an additional $4 million a year to process.
An exceptional student
Under the careful scrutiny of her teachers, Tang's steady hand helped shape the sentence required as an entry into the contest.
"She is very careful in her writing," said Linda Chervenak, who along with Carolyn Dubies and Claire Costello, put together this year's contest entries. Chervenak said the national winner from Huber Street is the first student from New Jersey to reach that level.
The concentration on penmanship comes at a time when students are relying more and more on computers, and thus, many schools around the state and the nation have put less emphasis on how clearly a student writes.
Principal Pat Cocucci, however, said this is an important aspect of a student's education, and he credited the teachers with helping the students achieve their success.
Students competed in two levels: manuscript, which is printing, and cursive, which is script. Each year, the students from every grade submit samples to their teachers, who look over the material for students whose writing may show promise. Staff members narrow down the entries to the best three or four and then submit them to the contest.
"Students in all grades participate, including special-needs students," Chervenak said. "We narrowed them down to one for each grade level."
Not everything is perfect the first time, Chervenack said. "Sometimes we see mistakes, then we may ask them to do another sample. Sometimes we will sit with a student who is nervous. We work with that student to make sure what we send to the company is the best the student can do."
Tang said she practices her writing and won in the cursive category.
"I've written well since the second grade," she said.
"You can tell a student has promise from the rhythm of their writing," Chervenack said. "They don't stop and start. Their writing flows."
Students Susan Kim, Francesa Mastropierro, Eugene Song, Angelo Abdellatie also won honors on the state level. Jordan Beream won honors from the company on the school level.