Skip to main content

South Jordan Journal

Monte Vista students combine language, culture into Chinese New Year celebration

Mar 09, 2023 10:20AM ● By Julie Slama

Monte Vista dual immersion students performed in their Chinese New Year celebration on Bingham High’s stage. (Photo courtesy of Monte Vista Elementary)

Monte Vista dual immersion students hopped into the Year of the Rabbit with an evening celebration on stage at Bingham High School.

Students sang, danced and celebrated the Lunar New Year with traditional Chinese festivities for families and the community.

Third-grader Wembley Cottle performed an upbeat Chinese New Year dance with her classmates while Cole Hansen, who was one of the narrators at the celebration, joined his fellow sixth-grade students in a traditional Tai Chi Kung Fu fan dance. 

“The moves were kind of hard to understand at the beginning because we were learning how to do it from the video and then our teacher was teaching us too,” Cole said. 

Each grade presented a special performance for the celebration. First-grade students performed “Let Me Say Thank You,” followed by second graders who shared animals of the zodiac. Fourth graders performed “Descendants of the Dragon” while fifth-grade students performed the traditional bamboo pole dance. Sixth-grade students also performed the dragon dance.

All the students returned to the stage at the end of evening to see “Gong Xi,” the traditional Happy New Year song meaning “congratulations” and “happiness to you.”

It was a capstone experience for the students’ Chinese New Year celebration. Leading up to it, students rotated through various Chinese New Year activities.  

For example, in the art rotation, they made red lanterns, which are symbols of wealth, fame, and prosperity and learned of the tale to scare off Nian, the beast who is believed to come out of its hiding place to feed on people and animals.

“We also folded origami bunnies and got to draw Chinese New Year pictures about the zodiac,” Wembley said.

In their STEM rotation, they worked on dragon puzzles on the computer. In music, they learned how to beat the drums that are typically used for the dragon dance.

“We had to keep a beat that the dragon would move to,” Cole said.

In his class, they also did a Chinese New Year activity in class where they wrote words of peace, harmony and good fortune. Some other classes practiced their calligraphy and Chinese characters or made Year of the Rabbit pictures.

For 13 years, Monte Vista has offered the Chinese dual immersion program to students beginning in first grade.  

Wembley decided to follow the footsteps of her older sister, who also had started in the dual immersion program before her.

“My best friends are in it with me, and I’ve made more friends; it’s been a lot of fun doing it together,” she said.

Wembley hopes that she can go to China in eight years, when she is 20. She plans to earn college credit while in high school and would like to earn a scholarship in Chinese for college.

In the dual immersion program, students begin by studying math in Chinese and that can be challenging, Wembley said.

“Sometimes when the math problems are in Chinese, it can be hard to understand,” she said.

Cole agrees: “In third grade, you learn fractions in Chinese and learning fractions is hard already, so it makes it harder. Later on, you get a real good understanding of fractions. You also learn science in Chinese, so it’s learning those words specific to the subject that makes it harder.”

Students also learn that Chinese tones can be difficult as there are four different tones to learn, or technically even a fifth neutral tone. The tones are used to differentiate Chinese characters with the same pronunciation.  Students also learn the spelling with ideogrammatic characters.

Cole said by learning the language, he knows how to study.

“You have to concentrate and learn to speak and understand math and science in Chinese first, but in fifth and sixth grade, it becomes easier and we’re able to learn even more. It sets us up to have good study habits,” he said.

Cole chose to come to Monte Vista after one of his friends, who is older than he is, enrolled in Monte Vista to learn Mandarin.

“I just got interested in what he was learning and decided that I wanted to learn Chinese,” he said. “I want to keep speaking it and I know there are a lot of more job opportunities available since I know the language.”

By the time sixth grade rolls around, Cole said he knows everyone in his dual immersion grade, as they have been together since they entered it in first grade.

He, too, would like to travel to China.

“I'd like to go to Beijing and Shanghai; they're the big cities and I know the Great Wall is near Beijing,” he said. “Learning the language is kind of cool, especially when you meet a Chinese person, and they're like, ‘Whoa, you're American. And then you can speak Chinese.’”

In the meantime, he’s looking forward to taking the culture class in the middle school.

“I'm excited for that. I've heard it's really fun,” he said. 

Assistant Principal Andrew Lovell is impressed with the students’ learning.

“I'm always blown away when I go to these kids’ classrooms or see a performance, with just how much they've learned; it’s amazing,” he said. “These kids have it down. I mean, they do very well at speaking and communicating. Then they learn science and math, not in English, but like, in Mandarin, and that's just incredible.”

Lovell said students in dual immersion also tend to have better attention and focus because they’re not only practicing the language, but they’re also working on skills and subject matter.

“They’re task switching, and they have that mental flexibility of being able to be flexible in their thinking,” he said. “The quality of teaching is so high and the expectations our Chinese teachers have for their students are high, so their learning is a testament to the dedication and the work that students put in to learning this language.”

Through the dual immersion program, Lovell believes students gain a greater understanding of the world.

“It’s a huge benefit or blessing they’re gaining culturally,” he said. “They have a better understanding of the world we live in, of other cultures within our world, and they have greater empathy for others.”