When Sister Brenda Monahan called Maryn Rajaski into her office earlier this month, Maryn thought she might be in trouble.

When she got there, she quickly found out she was not.

Monahan, principal at Mother Seton School in Emmitsburg, told Maryn that she had been named the 2017 Zaner-Bloser National Handwriting Contest champion among third-graders.

A video recorded by her family on an iPhone showed Maryn’s jaw drop. She was speechless.

“I definitely was not in trouble,” Maryn, 9, said this week.

The Zaner-Bloser National Handwriting Contest, now in its 26th year, awards students from kindergarten through eighth grade for handwriting excellence. Judges select winners based on the Zaner-Bloser Handwriting Keys to Legibility: shape, size, spacing and slant.

Schools hold their own handwriting competitions and select grade-level winners who advance to state competitions. At the state level, judges select a public and private grade-level winner for each state. From there, judges select 18 public and private national grade-level semifinalists. The nine grand national grade-level champions are chosen from the group of semifinalists.

As a first- and second-grader, Maryn won the state competition for her work writing in print. But as she moved on to third grade, the competition switched to writing in cursive.

To submit an entry, students write the specified prompt — “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” — on a piece of paper and send it to Zaner-Bloser. The phrase is selected because it includes every letter of the alphabet.

“I wanted it to be perfect, so I went slow and took my time to make sure it was as good as it could be,” said Maryn, who estimated it took about 45 minutes to write the prompt.

Students also had to write an answer in cursive to the question: “How does your handwriting make you a better reader and writer, and why is that important?”

“Handwriting makes me a better reader and writer because the letters are more complicated than print, so I get more time to practice,” she wrote.

As the winner, Maryn received a medal, a trophy and a check for $1,000. Her school also receives $1,000 from Zaner-Bloser to use for products made by the company. The company publishes handwriting workbooks for schools to use.

When Monahan brought Maryn into a classroom earlier this month to tell her classmates about Maryn’s accomplishment, the students didn’t have much of a reaction except for a smattering of applause, shown on a cellphone video.

But when Monahan mentioned the $1,000 award, the classroom erupted into cheers.

“I’m going to use the money to buy a house, buy a car, use some for college, and retirement,” Maryn said Tuesday. “And then I’ll keep probably around $50.”

Maryn’s sister, Ellie, who is in first grade at Mother Seton School, implored her sister to use the money to buy pineapple.

Maryn said her handwriting ability was largely natural, but it’s still something she works hard on. And she’s her own worst critic.

Maryn thumbs through her handwriting workbook, looking at her work. She struggles with uppercase “W’s” she said, though they look neat and each one is nearly identical.

She stops at a page filled with lowercase “r’s” and critiques the third one over. One line is too horizontal, she said. Another line has too much of a loop to it. The last one is OK, she said.

Her favorite letters are “f’s” and “j’s,” she said. Those two letters each have multiple loops and she likes how seamlessly they flow into the next letter.

“She works so hard at it,” said Maryn’s mother, Amaris. “Every homework assignment, she truly wants to make sure she does her best. We were shocked to find out she won the national championship. We would have been excited with another state championship.”

Follow Allen Etzler on Twitter: @AllenWEtzler.

(3) comments


This story gave me great joy as I am a stickler for good penmanship which is sadly not enforced so much any more in public schools. So glad to see it is still being taught at Mother Seton School.


Congrats, Maryn. Great job! Handwriting is still very important.


Nice story and congratulations. As the previous commenter mentioned, penmanship has become a lost skill these past many years. I suggest checking out Jake Weidmann's videos and site for a glimpse into a beautiful art form.

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