While students are eagerly looking forward to spring and the fun outdoor activities it brings, kindergarteners at the Spring Meadow Early Childhood Center are taking time to learn about the season through the lens of Chinese culture and tradition.
Sixty bright-eyed 5-year-olds are enrolled in a Chinese Immersion program that launched only last year at the Townsend school, and students are excitedly preparing for the annual Chinese New Year performance.
“This is the year of the pig, the twelfth sign of the Chinese zodiac,” teacher Bunny Chang reminds her students. “Pigs are said to be lucky animals, and represent fun, good fortune and wealth,” she says.
Chang has been busy teaching, watching and listening as five dozen kindergarteners rehearse for their big performance. On March 22, they’ll offer greetings, songs, skits, music and dances – in Mandarin and English – to celebrate the Lunar New Year with their classmates and parents.
“They’re doing very well,” Chang observed. “I’m proud of how quickly the children have learned to incorporate the proper body language and inflections in their performances.”
Five-year-old Venezla J. Mason enjoys the immersion program for many reasons. “I like Chinese Immersion because it helps me learn more about the culture and teaches me to be kind and nice to other people,” she said. “I like to learn math in Chinese and I have learned a lot of ways to count and how to solve problems. I want to keep learning Chinese because it’s getting easier and more fun!”
The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is the largest, most important holiday tradition in the Chinese calendar. It marks the end of a long winter season and the beginning of the growing cycle and is celebrated by more than 20 percent of the earth’s global population.
“The New Year Celebration is a great way for our students and their families to learn about important aspects of Chinese culture and tradition,” Chang explained.
Since the holiday centers around the reunion of family, Chang has engaged her students with an intergenerational research project. Each immersion family created a poster to introduce the holiday, and those are on display in the hallways of the school.
Mason’s mom, Venezla C. Mason is glad she chose a unique path for elementary education. “The Chinese Immersion Program has brought new excitement to our household. Venezla is always so excited to teach us something new.” Mason also thinks that as communities become more diverse, learning a second language may be critical to future success. “Not only does the immersion program enhance our child’s cultural competence, but we think language fluency improves her chances for a number of careers in this competitive world.”
Chang is also teaching the children about traditional crafts and foods associated with the holiday. With the assistance of a teaching intern, Chang recently helped the kindergarteners assemble their own Chinese dumplings and introduced them to scallion pancakes, rice crackers, and an assortment of popular Chinese snacks.
They also learned the symbolism behind firecrackers, the lion dance, lanterns, the color red, red envelopes, and practiced their Chinese calligraphy with seasonal messages.
The immersion program in the Appoquinimink School District is offered progressively from Kindergarten through 12 grade. The program launched in Fall 2016 with a 50/50 model featuring Spanish and English, and Mandarin Chinese was added last year. In Fall 2020, a third target language will be added.
Spring Meadow Principal Gayle Rutter says, “One of the biggest benefits a child gains from exposure to an immersion setting is developing an awareness that how you or I live is not the only way. To paraphrase a Chinese proverb, ‘Learning another language is learning another way to think about things.’”