Getting immersed in New Year's fun

Updated: 2015-02-25 11:46

By Cai Chunying and Hua Shengdun in Washington(China Daily USA)

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Getting immersed in New Year's fun

Ania Waller (front left) and Sonja Boxall (front right), students at Baltimore International Academy, a language immersion public charter school, perform a catwalk at the school's Chinese New Year performance gala in Baltimore on Monday. Cai Chunying / China Daily

For Jule Byrd and Sean Hancock, second graders at Baltimore International Academy, Chinese New Year has added significance.

Jule and Sean were among the more than 140 pupils who staged a two-hour long performance gala in Baltimore on Monday evening, singing Chinese songs, dancing to Chinese music, acting in dramas based on Chinese tales and doing the catwalk in Chinese costumes. They are all in the public charter school's Chinese immersion program, which covers kindergarten through eighth grade.

More than 200 school administrators, teachers and parents filled the cafeteria-turned performance hall, enjoying shows in a language that many do not understand.

"She impressed me every time she attended this kind of cultural event," said Julius, father of Jule, who dressed in a red qipao, a traditional fitted Chinese garment for girls and women, and took part in three performances.

"My teacher sent practice clips to my mom's email, and I used that to practice," Jule said in Chinese. She said she also practiced during recess or intermission between classes for about one month, led by her own teacher.

In the immersion program, all subjects such as math and social studies are taught in Chinese so students become relatively proficient in the language. The academy has nine Chinese teachers. The 643-student school has immersion programs in four other languages: Spanish, French, Russian and Arabic.

With Jule and several other students, Sean sang Bejing Welcomes Youp>Sean said he could remember all the lyrics. For him, Chinese doesn't seem that difficult. "I enjoyed writing Chinese characters because they are picture-like," said Sean, also in Chinese, who loves to draw, his mother Erin said.

"We chose Chinese for Sean because it is said to be a difficult language and more challenging," said his mother, who works in the special education field for the Baltimore public school system. "Kids actually like challenges more than we think they do."

Chinese New Year also meant a big celebration for pupils at Brent Elementary School in Washington, each of whom take a 45-minute Chinese class each week.

The 369 students from prekindergarten to fifth grade performed about 20 pieces of Chinese folk arts, shown one hour in the morning and in the afternoon on Feb 20, including Chinese tongue twisters, red ribbon dances, fan and umbrella dances and an ancient Chinese poem of the swan.

"This is the fourth year we celebrated Chinese New Year on this scale," said Wang Qinghua, coordinator and teacher for the school's Chinese program. The school has another Chinese teacher who is affiliated with the Confucius Institute at George Mason University in Virginia.

The Brent school's Chinese name is Bo Ren, meaning humane and well-cultivated, Wang said.

Ryla Lynch, 5, who sang about making friends around the world, said she is a veteran of the Chinese festival. "I was happy because it was my third time to perform in the Chinese party."

Janet Reedy came from Michigan to see her two grandchildren Jude and Ava perform.

"It's very exciting for the children to be able to experience something from another country," she said.

Liz Daley also came to see her youngest son's performance. Daley said her second son, Frank, now in middle school, started learning Chinese with Wang when he was 5 and wants to pursue a career in China someday.

Daley said her three sons have learned a lot from the program, as she showed a short message of "Happy Chinese New Year of the Ram" in Chinese characters sent by Frank.

"The language is important for understanding China and giving us an appreciation for the different culture," she said.

Sheng Yang in Washington contributed to this story.

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