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Moorhead fifth-grader vying for national handwriting title

Anna Skarphol, a fifth-grader at Park Christian School in Moorhead, has been named a state winner in handwriting. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Look out, John Hancock. Anna Skarphol is signing in.

The student at Moorhead's Park Christian School was recently named the Minnesota fifth-grade winner in a national handwriting contest.

Now the 11-year-old queen of cursive hopes her letters' carefully crafted loops, angles and spacing earn her a national title.

Out of 220,000 students who were entered in the contest, Skarphol is one of hundreds of state grade-level winners in the 20th annual Zaner-Bloser Handwriting Contest.

"I don't really spend much time on it. I just have nice handwriting," Skarphol said.

Skarphol said she had a "pretty tight competition" with one of her classmates the last two years, and has even gone online to pick up tips.

Demonstrating her technique, the tiny blonde bends over the paper and with a pencil in her right hand smoothly traces each letter.

Speedy second-rate scribbling is fine for the classroom, but not here.

"A lot with these letters is starting in the right spot," she said, giving tips as she carves the words on the page. "The 'i,' making sure you don't split it at the top; same with the 't.' "

She even has favorites among the alphabet.

"I like some of the letters, but I don't like the z's. I like the a's, and I like the s's, too," Skarphol said.

Cursive writing is taught at Park Christian from second through the sixth grade, said Tracy Striker, Skarphol's teacher.

Striker said Skarphol has an artistic bent, which may play into how well her letters flow.

Striker said keyboarding may be emphasized for communicating electronically by email, text-message or using a word processor, but there's still a need to be able to write quickly and legibly.

And when it comes to speed, cursive beats block letters, Striker said.

Some school districts across the nation have stopped teaching cursive writing because of the steady shift to developing keyboarding skills and because of an increased emphasis on improving reading and math skills.

Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo public schools still teach cursive.

"It's always going to come in handy to have neat handwriting, whether it's printing or cursive, whether for a job application or to write a letter," West Fargo Assistant Superintendent Louise Dardis said.

"When you apply for a job today, they want to see how you spell. They want to see how you relay information in writing," said Rachael Agre, Fargo's elementary curriculum director.

The national winners will be named this month and Grand National title winners in May, Zaner-Bloser said in a letter.

Skarphol said she's happy to have won the state-level contest and that it would be nice to win at the national level.

But being named an alpha-scribe is not as im portant as another prize she has in mind.

"My dad might make me a root beer float!" she said.