Early lessons live on even as memories fade

Day by Day
Early lessons live on even as memories fade

By LIZ THOMPSON

September 2018
This Week News

In September 1956, I stepped into the basement of the Masonic Temple in Westerville. (Ohio) Most likely I was wearing a dress my mother made, with saddle shoes and a bow in my hair.

Here, I would begin my public education. Mrs. Sleeper was my teacher. Years later, she would see me as an adult and call me by name. She said I had not changed.

My guess is Mrs. Sleeper followed many of her students’ lives and could call us each by name, even years later.

My black-and-white photo shows four rows of tables with eight children at each table.

Mrs. Sleeper handled all of us mostly by herself. We became members of our first club here — the Bow Knot Club — when we tied our shoes by ourselves. My next club membership was the Mickey Mouse Club with a photo membership card.

Many of these same classmates would see Westerville grow from a village to a city. We would see the farmland surrounding our city disappear.

We would walk side by side at graduation at the single high school 13 years later.

I remember the names of all my elementary teachers: Whipkey, Camel, Freeman, McGlish, Sweazy, Clapham. Once we began seventh grade, we had a teacher for each subject. No more recess; the only break came in walking to each class.

Remembering all those teachers’ names now from middle and high school is based on what happened in the classroom, both positive and negative memories.

Mr. Franklin was my seventh-grade geography teacher. His thick gray hair represented knowledge to me. I loved his class for what and how he taught. Here, we had our first real homework. I don’t recall the topic for my assignment, but I used an encyclopedia to get information.

Mr. Franklin called me forward when he passed out our graded assignments. The conversation went something like this:

“Elizabeth, where did you get your information?”

“The encyclopedia.”

“You do know you are not supposed to copy word for word, but read and tell me what you learned.”

How did he know? He must have seen my confusion.

“There is a hyphen in this word.”

I remember looking at my paper and knowing I was caught. I had copied a word that was only hyphenated because it fell at the end of the column and continued on the next line.

“That is called plagiarism, Elizabeth. Cheating. Using someone else’s words.”

He was not angry; he was teaching. I learned and never did that again.

In a small town like Westerville was in those days, sometimes the teachers or principals were neighbors or members of your church.

Recently, my church’s school at Beautiful Savior in Grove City installed a new first- and second-grade teacher. I mentioned to her that I still remember my early teacher’s names. I said the early years of school are uniquely important, setting the base for all learning.

Her enthusiasm was contagious. It gave me assurance that one day her students might remember her, much like I remember mine. That is the type of legacy we all long for.

Schools continue to teach English, mathematics, science, language, art and music. History, government and geography are called social studies. Hopefully, physical education remains a class, but sports have become a type of replacement.

Encyclopedias are not a temptation for students to copy from anymore — the internet has entered the picture. In my day, we did not have word processing or computers. We hand-wrote, in cursive, all of our work. Since cursive is no longer required, that probably sounds antiquated to today’s students.

The edge of Westerville is no longer farmland and the district has three high schools.

I no longer wear saddle shoes and most definitely have changed since 1956. But when I look in the mirror, I still wear my hair similar to when I was 5. No bow. No longer red, but white — sort of like Mr. Franklin’s was. My hope is I have passed on some wisdom I learned from my teachers.

Memories certainly are fogged with time. I choose to cling to the good ones.

Mrs. Sleeper’s 1956 Kindergarten class

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Cursive-writing instruction has proven benefits

Day by day

Cursive-writing instruction has proven benefits
By
LIZ THOMPSON
May 27, 2015
This Week News

Westerville was a village when I was born. I innately knew my neighbors — along with people at church, librarians, teachers, firemen, policemen, doctors and all people in authority — were there to protect and care for me.

School was never an option for me, nor did I want it to be, at least till third grade. On the first day, a friend of mine was talking to me, yet I was put in the corner by my teacher. No excuses. I got my marching orders.

This was the year to learn cursive writing. I was working on my alphabet on lined paper, likely sticking my tongue out one side of my mouth in concentration, when my teacher peered over my shoulder.

“Fix that F,” she said sternly.

I tried again and again and I still didn’t have the top loop open enough — and she told me so. I was near tears when she said, “You’ll never learn to write, Elizabeth.”

I hear you — if these were my worst school experiences, I got off easy comparatively. I know this now, but then I did not. I worked to write better, and with my mom’s help, I succeeded.

Writing cursive was and still is much easier than printing. As a writer who relies on her computer, I still begin all my writing in cursive on paper.

Today I know many of these same figures of authority are working to protect children in much the same way, although laws and rules have changed.

One change found lacking in the Common Core is the removal of cursive-writing instruction from school curricula. This fact is up for discussion.

Two such protectors of education are state Reps. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell) and Cheryl Grossman (R-Grove City). They sponsored House Bill 146 in April, requiring cursive writing to be taught in all elementary schools.

Specifically, the bill requires: “Handwriting instruction in kindergarten through fifth grade to ensure that students develop the ability to print letters and words legibly by third grade and to create readable documents using legible cursive handwriting by the end of fifth grade.”

This bill, with 13 co-sponsors, including several minority Democrats, follows a state law that went into effect last year, requiring students to read at grade level before they are promoted to fourth grade.

Even in this digital and app-based era, if they cannot write it, they likely cannot read it.

“Research proves cursive writing is essential,” Brenner said. “There is no contraindication for it. The Common Core does not require this in the curriculum and we need to have it back.”

Brenner has served as vice chairman of the Ohio House Education Committee for three years and hears from people who are surprised it is not being taught. The vast majority of those are in favor of teaching cursive writing.

“Cursive writing is a necessity, like learning to read,” Brenner said. “The arguments (against it) are that it is a modern day. Even though we have calculators, students need to know the basics of math to connect. Writing cursive is literally connecting one letter at a time.”

In Psychology Today, William R. Klemm wrote that writing cursive develops eye-hand coordination; to write legible cursive, fine motor control is needed.

“Cursive writing helps train the brain to integrate visual and tactile information. The benefits to brain development are similar to what you get with learning to play a musical instrument,” he wrote.

Grossman said she knows technology is important, yet learning cursive is equally important for different reasons.

“Research conducted by Columbus-based research firm Saperstein Associates shows that handwriting is a foundational skill that positively can influence students’ reading, vocabulary, memory and critical-thinking abilities as well. Studies report that longhand writing has also been shown to assist kids with dyslexia, helping them to become better students. Studies indicate that individuals retain much more of the content when notes are taken in cursive,” she said.

“I have been amazed to hear from teachers, parents and friends how much they support requiring handwriting be taught in elementary school,” Grossman said. “This can be accomplished with as little as 15 minutes being spent on this per day and can also be incorporated into other subjects.”

The problems with Common Core should be replaced by common sense.

I obviously overcame my third-grade experience. What challenges us makes us stronger, so let’s challenge our children in a good way.

When we look over their shoulder, instead of saying, “You’ll never … ,” let’s say, “Here, let me help you.”