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Wilson Christian student born without hands wins penmanship award

| Thursday, April 19, 2012

Maryellen Clark admits it wasn't that long ago she had concerns that her daughter's school writing workload might be too much for the girl.

Annie Clark, who is a first-grader at Wilson Christian Academy, was born without hands. When Maryellen and her husband, Tom Clark Jr., adopted Annie from China, the family had questions about how the physical disability might affect their daughter's development, her mother said.

Maryellen said they wondered if a prosthetic device might help their daughter along with writing, but when she brought up the idea to the girl's teacher, Laura Erb, she received an unexpected response.

"She said, 'Annie has the best handwriting in class,'" Maryellen recalled.

An assembly at the West Mifflin school yesterday would suggest the teacher's assessment was no exaggeration. The purpose of the event was to present Annie with the Nicholas Maxim Special Award for Excellent Penmanship.

It's one of two such awards given out this year in addition to the 400 state-level and 16 national-level honors the writing instruction program Zaner-Bloser will award to students with exceptional writing skills.

This is the second year Zaner-Bloser has presented the special award to students with special needs.

"I practice and write a lot," Annie said after receiving the award by surprise in front of all her classmates.

She and her fellow first-graders receive about an hour of writing instruction in class daily and keep writing journals.

When asked about her favorite topics, Annie said, "I like to write about princesses."

Annie is the second-youngest child in a family of nine. The Clarks have three biological children and six they adopted from China.

Erb described her student's writing style as "consistent and precise."

"She's a perfectionist," said Erb. In addition to writing well-formed print letters, paying attention to capitals and punctuation, Erb said Annie is also imaginative and can execute her sentences well.

"She thinks it through as to what to write," the teacher said.

Kathleen Wright, who heads Zaner-Bloser's handwriting program, noted of Annie, "Her writing sample was impressive. There are first-graders who have no disabilities who cannot write as well."

Wright said the special award was created last year to recognize students who overcome what could be obstacles to writing.

Nicholas Maxim, a fifth-grader from Maine who was born without lower hands and arms, was the first student to receive the award. This year, Remiel Colwill, a visually impaired fifth-grader from Eastlake, Ohio, will receive the special award in the handwriting category.

In addition to a plaque and other items for the school, Annie's win also earned her a trophy and a $1,000 prize.

Regarding the prize money, Annie said she'd "maybe save it for college."

Annie was among five students from the school to enter the contest this year. This is the second time the school had a winner: in 1996, then second-grader Allison Judy received a penmanship award from Zaner-Bloser.

According to Zaner-Bloser, some 325,000 students entered its National Handwriting Contest this year.

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