When Duvy Burston sets his mind to something, he makes things happen, say those who know him. That’s why no one was surprised that when the 12-year-old decided to learn cursive writing, he accomplished the new skill in a matter of weeks, and then went on to win a contest for it.
Duvy won the seventh-grade boys’ division of the 2015 “Cursive Is Cool” handwriting contest, sponsored by the Campaign for Cursive organization. It’s open to second- through eighth-graders in the United States and Canada, with most grades having both a boy and girl winner. This is the second year the contest has run, in part to encourage students to utilize the writing style and to counter a national trend that has in some places discontinued the teaching of cursive altogether.
For his outstanding work, Duvy received a certificate and got to choose from an array of prizes; he picked a fountain pen.
“I really didn’t know cursive at all; they had stopped teaching it in school,” says Duvy, the oldest child of Rabbi Pesach and Chana Burston, co-directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of Orange County, N.Y. While the family lives in nearby Monroe, Duvy attends Cheder Chabad of Monsey, a Jewish school in the next town over. “It looked neat, and you can write very fast in it. It’s a very important skill, especially for signatures.”
So Duvy approached his after-school English teacher, Heidi Leonard, who comes to his home several times a week for reading and writing lessons. She says she worked with him on it for about three sessions, and not long afterwards, “he had practically mastered it.”
“He’s very focused, very inquisitive,” says Leonard, an eighth-grade public-school teacher and the mother of two children who attend Chabad of Orange County’s Hebrew school. “As he realizes what he doesn’t know, he asks how to learn it. He also has an incredible desire to expand his vocabulary.”
It was Leonard who heard about the contest and encouraged Duvy to write the one-page essay explaining why cursive is important, even in an era where typing and swiping have long replaced the No. 2 pencil. Content and the quality of the handwriting were the winning criteria.
Of the hundreds of essays, the judges were impressed by Duvy’s language.
“A few short months ago,” he writes in his opening paragraph, “I did not know how to write in script. With a bit of practice, I mastered the uppercase and lowercase alphabets in a matter of just about a fortnight.”
He goes on to say that “one of the benefits of cursive is that it is faster and easier to take notes.” Moreover, those notes are “significantly neater and more organized-looking than they were before.”
In his essay, he also advised: “It has been said that younger children learn new skills faster and more easily than adults and older kids do. Therefore it is very beneficial to teach kids how to write in cursive at a young age.”
It also comes in handy when opening a bank account, adds Duvy, and when signing formal letters.
Duvy says he uses his new skill all the time now, and that it complements some of his other talents, including origami (he even made a time-lapse “how to” video of his designs), piano-playing and science. His four siblings keep him busy, as does his parents’ work with the Jewish community.
“His whole life has been on shlichus,” says his mother, Chana Burston. “He has always been helping, and he’s so artistic. He has run origami and science workshops for other children, performed at Purim parties and at camp; he can even fold a napkin in about 20 different ways” for events and the weekly Shabbat table.
She says family members have already hinted that he could be a sofer, a Torah scribe. Along those lines, Duvy has actually picked up a new hobby of late: calligraphy.
“We’re just really proud of him and happy he took the initiative,” says his mother. “He’s the kind of person who will work at it and work at it until it’s done—until it becomes a part of him.”