Two Chicago-area elementary school students were recognized as having the best handwriting in their grade level nationwide.

William Markevich, a second-grader at St. Constance School, 5841 W. Strong St., was named Grand National Grade-Level Champion of Zaner-Bloser’s 2016 National Handwriting Contest.

“I feel so happy. I didn’t know I was going to win, and I didn’t believe in myself that I could do it,” William said. “I thought I would only win state, but now I’m really happy with what I did.”

Kathleen Wright, national handwriting program adviser for Zaner-Bloser, was director of the National Handwriting Contest. She said the competition is a way to recognize students’ efforts to improve their handwriting. Zaner-Bloser is a Columbus, Ohio, company that publishes educational materials focusing on handwriting, reading, writing, spelling and vocabulary.

More than 270,000 students competed in the National Handwriting Contest, including about 40,000 second-graders, Wright said.

“Some kids who enter in this contest enter and they might not ever get an award in anything else,” Wright said. “It’s an opportunity for children to show what they can do in their letter formation skills.”

William Markevich was named Grand National Grade-Level Champion of Zaner-Bloser's 2016 National Handwriting Contest in the second grade category. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

William Markevich was named Grand National Grade-Level Champion of Zaner-Bloser’s 2016 National Handwriting Contest in the second-grade category. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

A panel of half a dozen retired classroom teachers judged submissions based on four traits: the size, shape and slant of the letters; whether letters were consistently short or tall; the space between letters in a word; and the space between words in a sentence.

Students submitted handwriting samples of their name; a supplied sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet; and a sentence explaining what they like about handwriting.

William said he started practicing handwriting when he was younger. His mother bought Brain Quest books in which he traced letters and copy sentences.

“I learned when I was small, and I just wanted to do that. I would keep doing it and doing it over and over again,” William said. “Handwriting is important because it helps you learn.”

William will be recognized for his achievement at a schoolwide assembly on Tuesday. He was awarded a trophy and a check for $1,000. His school will receive $1,000 worth of educational materials.

Two other students from St. Constance — third-grader Phillip Kaczor and seventh-grader Ysabell Pinpin — were recognized at the state level of the competition. William is the third student from St. Constance to win the National Handwriting Contest, according to his teacher, Patricia Prokuski.

Students entered the contest by submitting a writing sample containing their name, a copied sentence that contains every letter of the alphabet and a sentence explaining why they think handwriting is important. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

Students entered the contest by submitting a writing sample containing their name; a copied sentence that contains every letter of the alphabet; and a sentence explaining why they think handwriting is important. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

“William is a very good student,” Prokuski said. “He’s very thoughtful and everything. When he wants to do his work, he puts the effort forth. We are very proud of him.”

Donald Yu, a student at Elmwood Elementary School in Elmwood Park, 2319 N. 76th Ave., was named Grand National Grade-Level Champion in the first-grade category.

Donald said he practiced his handwriting at school with the help of his teacher, Lisa Anderson. He said was surprised to learn that he won because so many students were in the competition.

“I’m most excited about getting the trophy,” Donald said. “I’m proud of myself.”

Kevin Seibel, principal of Elmwood Elementary School, said two other students, Taran Sharma, who’s in second grade, and Olivia Shipinski, who’s in third grade, were recognized at the state level of the competition.

“I couldn’t be prouder. We have had a history of state winners and the pride that our teachers take in that is evident in how well our kids show perfect handwriting,” Seibel said. “This is a great honor for the school and for Donald. We couldn’t be prouder.”

Although many might argue that handwriting is a dying art because of technological advances such as typing and texting, Wright said developing strong handwriting skills is still important for students today.

“Children love to write by hand. A child once told me, ‘This is my writing, so I like this,’ ” Wright said. “You don’t get that same sense by hitting a key on a keyboard. We also know that research is really beginning to support the need for handwriting. It’s a literacy skill.”

More than 270,000 students participated in the 2016 competition with approximately 40,000 participants at the second-grade level. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

More than 270,000 students participated in the 2016 competition, with about 40,000 participants at the second-grade level. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times