Freya Mojica, 12, has entered the Zaner-Bloser National Handwriting Contest every year since she was in first grade, and has placed at some level in the competition each of those years.
But this was the first year that Mojica, a sixth-grade student at St. Joseph School in Fullerton, Maryland, was recognized as a 2023 Grand National Champion for her grade level.
Mojica said she appreciates the utility of handwritten words.
“It’s an old form of language. It’s made to communicate,” she said.
Participation in the contest is school-wide at St. Joseph, Mojica said. Contestants are allowed to practice and retry at home as many times as they wish, so there is not the same pressure or nerves as in, for example, a spelling bee contest.
Judges determined that Mojica had the best cursive handwriting among all of the sixth-grade entries from across the country, with submissions from 49 states. She was honored at a school assembly on May 23, which she described as “very grand.”
To mark her victory, Mojica was awarded an engraved Zaner-Bloser trophy, a $500 check, a medal, and a personalized certificate of achievement handcrafted by master penman Michael Sull. Her school received a $1,000 Zaner-Bloser product voucher and a certificate. Mojica’s teacher also received a certificate.
When asked how she felt about so many schools cutting cursive from their curriculums, she answered, “It makes me really sad that they’re getting rid of it. It feels more expressive when you’re writing it out. Way more expressive than printing.” Mojica considers it an art form.
Outside of handwriting, Mojica said she enjoys playing alto saxophone as First Chair in her school’s band.
She also loves visual art forms such as drawing; painting with watercolors, acrylics, and gouache; and paper crafts, like origami. Her art has also been recognized in competitions, like being selected for her school’s yearbook cover, and winning second place in Maryland for a Knights of Columbus contest.
When Baltimore Fishbowl suggested her national handwriting contest victory precludes her from becoming a doctor, who are notorious for their difficult-to-read handwriting, Mojica and her mother, Ofelia Mojica, laughed. “That’s okay,” said Ofelia. “That’s more her sister’s thing anyway.”
Instead, Freya has her sights set on becoming an architect, a career where she can put to work her love of art, shapes, and attention to detail.
“I practice 3D modeling on my computer,” she said, creating houses with “older, traditional shapes.” She also loves “traditional, historical, ornate, fancy castles.”
The national handwriting contest attracted nearly 80,00 students from kindergarten through eighth grade, according to a news release from Zaner-Bloser, the Columbus, Ohio-based publishing company that runs the competition.
Touting the myriad cognitive benefits of the handwriting process, Zaner-Bloser officials said in the release, “Writing by hand engages more of the brain and enables better recall than using a keyboard. In the earliest grades, learning to write letters by hand helps children learn to recognize them more quickly.”
Lisa Carmona, Zaner-Bloser’s president, said, “Research tells us what handwriting can do to support cognitive development and better academic outcomes.” She continued, “That’s why we’re committed to recognizing those schools that encourage the use of manuscript and cursive, and the students who work so hard to master it.”
All contest participants are required to write the sentence “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” because it contains every letter of the alphabet. Judges select winners based on Zaner-Bloser’s four keys to legibility: the shape, size, spacing, and slant of the letters.
Mojica said that in the future she’d love to learn calligraphy, and while she has never had a pen pal, she is interested in pursuing the idea.