Multimedia reporter

Teachers learn write from wrong at this cursive class

THE HUFFINGTON POST, published 6 November, 2009

A group of Brooklyn teachers went back to school this week for some vital retraining. Computer skills? New Math? No, good old-fashioned handwriting.

About 70 educators attended a workshop at Boerum Hill’s PS 261 on Pacific Street on Tuesday organized by Handwriting Without Tears, a national group that hopes to keep handwriting from becoming a lost art in an age of standardized testing and emphasis on keyboard skills.

“Let’s learn pencil grasp,” shouted the workshop leader, Diane Eldridge, starting off with that most-basic of skills because, she said, she recently saw a child holding a pencil as if it were a Stone Age tool.

Several teachers nodded knowingly. Others stared at the chalk with puzzled faces. A couple, looking slightly embarrassed, glanced down at their pens to see if, they too, were guilty of the offense.

Eldridge told teachers that the key is preparing to hold a pen properly.

“Writing is like scuba diving,” she said. “Before jumping into the ocean, you need to jump into a pool.”

During the workshop, teachers were asked to bang wooden sticks, clap their hands and sing — all strategies for preparing kids for the act of writing.

“Pick up a crayon, this is easy to do. I just tell my fingers what to do,” sang Eldridge. “My thumb is bent, pointer points to the tip, tall man uses his side, I tuck my last two fingers in and take them for a ride.”

All this fun, games and re-education doesn’t come cheaply — PS 261 Principal Zipporiah Mills spent $17,000 this year to get her staff up to speed on teaching cursive writing — but parents definitely approve.

“It’s a lost art,” said Klara Carames, co-president of the Parent Teacher Association at PS 261. “Nobody teaches cursive anymore, and I’m glad the school is offering this program.”

At the end of the workshop, the happiest students were indeed the teachers themselves.

Claudia Rivera, a 30-year-old special education teacher at PS 261, had entered the room typing quickly on the keyboard of her Blackberry. When she left, she was drawing a neat capital “D” on a mini-blackboard.

She looked like she had re-adjusted to the ancient tool called chalk.

A version of this story appeared in print on November 13, 2009, on page 13 of The Brooklyn Paper.