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The City Journals

Draper Elementary’s Chinese New Year celebration showcases learning

Feb 22, 2017 03:51PM ● By Julie Slama

Second-graders perform the traditional fan dance as part of Draper Elementary’s annual Chinese New Year celebration. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]
Draper Elementary second-grader Zane Atkinson and his classmates practiced “a long time” to learn the Chinese fan dance.
“The fan was hard to hold and we had to learn the right way,” he said. “Sometimes when kids were holding them wrong, they flew over their heads. It was really hard to do and fun to finally do it right to perform in front of an audience.”
Through preparing for the school’s Chinese New Year program, Zane, who is in the school’s dual-immersion program, learned about Chinese culture.
“They celebrate for a week with their songs and dancing. They have a wheel of animals they choose every year and have it of the one animal. The Year of the Rooster was this year. I really like learning math and the money section of Chinese. I love learning the words. It is fun,” he said.
After Zane and other second-graders performed the fan dance, which tied in the traditional sport of Kung Fu, they sang a song about the importance of friendship.
Students in first through fifth grades took turns, showcasing what they learned through language and culture. 
“It gives our students the opportunity to display what they’ve learned of the language immersion and being exposed to Chinese culture,” Principal Piper Riddle said.
It began with the fourth-graders performing the lion dance to celebrate the Year of the Rooster, symbolizing an active and energetic year. Then, they sang a Chinese pop song.
Fourth-grade teacher Cyndi Lin said the dragon is a royal animal believed to bring good luck to the community, so it often performs during Chinese New Year. The lion in the lion dance is furious and meant to scare away evil, and is often performed for special occasions such as traditional and religious festivals.
Student Elisha Wong said she appreciated the traditional dances.
“I liked the dragon because it was fun to walk through the students and move it around,” she said. “I also liked the tongue twisters. My grandma and dad speak Chinese at home, so I decided to do dual immersion so I could learn to write what they were saying.”
The Chinese tongue twisters showcased fifth-graders’ talents. Similar to English tongue twisters where students have an alliteration of words to repeat, the students first said the line in Chinese slowly before getting faster the second time.
First-graders, who started the dual-immersion program last fall, demonstrated their language skills through several songs. Some of the songs were part of their morning dance routine.
Third-graders shared the story of the Chinese zodiac animals. Students told how the zodiac is a repeating cycle of 12 years, with each year being represented by an animal. Traditional customs say the animals are closely related to ancient Chinese people’s lives or have lucky meanings.
The 45-minute program, which was presented for parents on Jan. 30 as well as for the school on Jan. 27, concluded with all Chinese dual-immersion students teaching everyone how to say congratulations — “gong xi” — then singing the song, “Wish You a Wonderful Chinese New Year.” Afterward, traditional red envelopes with a Chinese coin were given to students.
Learning about the Chinese customs are part of the program. Teacher Tawna Glover said she has incorporated learning more about Chinese culture in her classroom.
“Through our classroom Chinese New Year party, we learn how to use chopsticks, make paper lanterns, learn what zodiac animal students are born in and learn about the meanings of the lion and dragon dances,” she said. 
The Chinese New Year celebration has evolved since the school started the dual-immersion program eight years ago.
“This is a cultural experience that unites our whole school, the dual-immersion students as well as our traditional students, so we can celebrate Chinese New Year together,” teacher Jennifer Asay said.