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The City Journals

Eastlake Elementary students celebrate Chinese New Year

Feb 24, 2017 11:27AM ● By Julie Slama

Eastlake Elementary students perform the dragon dance to bring in the Chinese New Year. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]
For six years, Jackson Osmond has been learning Chinese at Eastlake Elementary.
“Everyone knows Spanish, but learning Chinese is super cool because I’m learning characters instead of letters,” he said. “My favorite part is learning something that not everyone knows.”
Jackson and his sixth-grade classmates added a splash of color and music to Eastlake Elementary’s Chinese New Year celebration with the traditional fan dance. The group performed twice on Jan. 26— once for his schoolmates and once for parents.
“We all learned the fan techniques in the dance, and we practiced at first every week, but lately 10 to 30 minutes every day to prepare for the new year,” he said, adding that he volunteered to sing when they asked for vocalists.
Second-grade Chinese immersion teacher Janet Craven said through learning the 2,000-year-old fan dance, students are performing the ancient tradition.
“The Han Dynasty is considered the first Chinese dynasty that has cared about preserving artistic tradition, and that is a primary reason why the Chinese fan dance is still practiced today,” she said, adding that it is often performed at cultural festivals and events. “We are incorporating culture into what the students have been learning with songs about concepts and their vocabulary and worked it into the celebration during the past month.”
During the celebration, each grade performed while sixth-graders emceed the event. The sixth-graders taught the family members and the non-dual immersion students and their families the Chinese words for congratulations and how to count to 10.
“We want the students to learn language and culture. Two of our students who were emcees aren’t even in the dual immersion program but are classroom leaders who are wanting to help teach the rest of the school,” Craven said.
Fifth-graders opened the program by acting out the Legend of Nian, a monster who slept 365 days and woke up hungry and would eat livestock, crops and even village children. To protect themselves, villagers would put food out in hopes that the monster wouldn’t attack people. 
When that didn’t work, most villagers left, so when a beggar came to the village, he found only a woman and a man remaining and willing to give him food and shelter. The woman told the beggar the monster already killed her son and grandson and her husband was too ill to move. The visitor told her to shake firecrackers, which would be too loud for the monster, to hang red scrolls from her windows and doors because the color was too bright for Nian and to hang lanterns out for the fear of fire. From that time on, the monster never came to the village and the saying, “one turn deserves another,” originated.
First-grade students followed with songs about counting and directions. They also sang “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Chinese.
Second-graders sang about animals and made sock puppets to illustrate them. Third-graders shared that every animal in the Chinese zodiac represented a good quality in people. Fourth-graders performed a pop song.
After the sixth-grade fan dance, the school brought in the Year of the Rooster with the traditional dragon and lion dance.
“The celebration gives the children the opportunity to show what they’re learning but also gives them the confidence to perform, to practice their vocabulary and pronunciation, to learn new aspects in Chinese culture and to learn skills in oral presentation,” Craven said. “For parents, they get to see what they’re children are learning and share in the happiness and celebration.”