Harrison Elementary celebrates Chinese New Year

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Nick Crow
Friday, January 31, 2014

JANESVILLE—Harrison Elementary School fifth-graders donned masks, shook tambourines, pounded drums and tossed candy and fortune cookies throughout their school Friday morning in celebration of the Lunar New Year.

“The noise scares away the bad spirits,” Jade Wooden, 10, explained. “It's now the year of the horse and time to celebrate.”

Students of Jessica Wang's Chinese class are taught about the holiday each year because it is the most important celebration in China, Wang said.

“Everyone in China is eager to go back home this time of year,” Wang said. “Chinese New Year is like Christmas in America but louder and with more action.”

Wang said it is important for students to study the 15-day celebration because experiencing the culture helps them to better learn the language.

“This is my third year teaching Chinese here, and we have celebrated the New Year every year,” Wang said. “The kids are very good here and interested in learning the Chinese language and culture.”

Once the parade was finished, students sat in the school's cafeteria to enjoy dumplings. Wang gave each student one dumpling while wishing them luck in Chinese, which, she said, roughly translates to “make a lot of money the next year.”

She then asked each student to say it back to her to learn the phrase.

“My dumpling was good,” Jake Coulter, 10, said. “I have never had one before.”

Coulter said he liked the festivities because it helps him to learn Chinese words. He said he has learned a lot since he began taking Chinese class.

According to the Associated Press, the holiday is the most important social holiday in China.

It is tied to the lunar Chinese calendar, where every month begins on the darkest day. The holiday usually falls at the end of January or beginning of February, the Associated Press report said.

This year marks the year of the horse. People born in this year are said to be clever, kind, animated and energetic.

The Chinese language initiative is part of a push by the Janesville School District to expand their international education program, which began to gain traction in fall 2012.

“The School District of Janesville deserves credit for being so progressive,” Harrison Principal Jessica Grandt-Turke said. “It benefits our students to teach them that the world is bigger than Janesville, Wisconsin. We have a responsibility as educators to teach that and be global citizens.”

Grandt-Turke said her school is sending a delegation of teachers, parents and students to China this summer to present their teaching style and learn strategies to implement in Janesville classrooms.

“Mandarin Chinese is spoken by more people in the world than any other language,” Grandt-Turke said. “If speaking it gives students an edge out in the workforce ... that's a good thing.”

Students in the Janesville School District can begin Chinese classes as early as third grade.

“One of the reasons the district starts in elementary school is because it's a difficult language to learn and can take longer,” Grandt-Turke said. “For an 8-year-old, it's prime time to learn a language.”

The district is working to enroll as many as 100 tuition-paying foreign students by next school year. The first of them, a Chinese student, is preparing to attend Craig High School this semester.

It has also been hosting three-week “institutes” since last summer that are designed to help foreign students succeed by gradually introducing them to life in an American high school and improving their English fluency.

Students of all grades celebrated at Harrison on Friday. They smiled, yelled and cheered as their fifth-grade schoolmates marched past. For them, it was a whole-school celebration that served as a learning experience.

“It's something kids look forward to when it's their time in the fifth grade,” Grandt-Turke said. “It's important that they learn and celebrate different cultures. If this sparks their curiosity too, that's great.”

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