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South Jordan Journal

Eastlake Elementary Dragons embrace Year of the Dragon

Apr 12, 2024 12:05PM ● By Julie Slama

Students take part in Eastlake Elementary’s Chinese New Year performance in their school multi-purpose room. (Doug Flagler/Jordan School District)

Eastlake Elementary’s Joaquin and Sofia Jones were excited to take part in their school’s Chinese New Year performance. Fifth-grader Joaquin was to perform in “Lemon Tree,” an upbeat rock song with his dual language immersion classmates while sixth-grader Sofia was to be an emcee for the program.

“It’s a cool celebration of Chinese culture,” Joaquin said. “It’s not just the New Year’s performance, but it’s also learning to do their different crafts and learning the history of their traditions.”

His sister agrees: “It’s an opportunity to showcase our Chinese language and what we’re learning in dual immersion; it’s a lot of fun.”

Both students were to perform along with their classes at a Chinese New Year’s celebration at Herriman High along with other area schools, but they joined all the Mandarin dual immersion students at their own school’s celebration as well.

The school program included first-grade students performing “Happy New Year” and “Hello, New Year.” Second graders took part in “Congratulations” while third-grade students performed to the popular folk song, “Little Apple.” Fourth graders performed “Youth Cultivation Manual” pop song and fifth-graders strummed blow up guitars and danced to their song. Sixth-grade students not only could be emcees, but also took part in “Chinese,” which combined the fan dance, Kung Fu and tongue twisters.

Even Eastlake’s mascot, Fireball the dragon, was ready for the Year of the Dragon with a special vest made by school librarian Piper Wise’s sister.

“It’s a big celebration for our students to showcase their knowledge of the language and learn more about the culture, which is important to have these authentic experiences,” Wise said.

Fifth grader Madelyn Hatch was psyched to take the stage.

“We’ve never performed a pop song before; it’s usually traditional songs,” she said. “It’s really fun to be able to learn the culture and share it.”

Madelyn said she likes the tradition of sharing red envelopes at school, filled with candy and Chinese coins.

Her DLI classmate, Avie Fraidenburg, has appreciated learning several Chinese crafts such as papercutting, calligraphy and making paper lanterns.

“I like learning the art and culture, seeing the dragon dance and eating Chinese food,” she said. “Every year, we learn something different and it’s super fun.”

Joaquin said the celebration wasn’t just learning the song to perform, but understanding the Chinese traditions and history behind the 15-day Chinese New Year.

“Since first grade, we’ve studied and been more involved in learning the culture and why the Chinese celebrate what they do; the legends are fascinating and it’s just exciting to be in a school learning the language and the traditions,” he said.

While traveling in San Francisco, Joaquin and Sofia used their language skills to order food and speak with others.

“People were appreciative of us communicating in their language,” he said. “I decided I wanted to learn another language to be involved in their culture and now we are not only learning what they enjoy eating and doing, but we’re celebrating their holiday and that’s really cool.”

His sister said by studying a language, it opens opportunities.

“It’s important to learn a language because you can interact with different people in Mandarin and not lose anything in translation. When I grow up, I want to be a senator and knowing Chinese is going to be a vital part in my communication and I’ll have a broader perspective having studied the language,” Sofia said, adding that she’d love to study abroad.

Her classmate Eli Beckstrom said he followed his two brothers in learning Mandarin. 

“It’s fun to learn. I want to study through high school and when I pass the AP test, I’ll get college credit,” he said. “Even in high school, I can take Chinese and get college credit.”

Even so, it’s not an easy language to learn, Eli said, with sixth-grader Benson Woolf agreeing.

“There’s a lot of different tones which can be confusing so if you actually say something wrong…,” Benson said. 

They also are learning not only traditions, but superstitions, such as not having a fourth floor in buildings because if the word is said with a different tone, it could mean death, Eli said.

However, the boys also are willing to use their knowledge to communicate. Benson said he’s been called on to communicate with a student who arrived from China and knew limited English.

“Being able to communicate with him was really cool,” he said.

Wise, who has had two kids be part of the DLI program, said that there are advantages to learning a second language.

“The connections your brain makes and the skills you learn in Chinese immersion helps set you up for success,” she said. “The kids thrive in learning. Early in the program, our teachers were on two-year VISAs, so it was a lot of starting over every couple of years. Now, there is more stability in the program, and that makes a huge difference because we just build upon each year. Our students are entering middle school and high school with more language skills. They stay in the same cohort of kids all the way through 12th grade, so they work together and are very comfortable with each other. It’s a tight group and they have each other’s back.”

While the boys took part in the dragon dance, Sofia was able to see the performance.

“It was cool to see them perform as well as the ribbon dancers and those who played the drums, the sticks, and cymbals. It’s just a big celebration and for DLI kids, it’s definitely a highlight every year.”

Eastlake Elementary currently is accepting DLI applications for first-graders at or in the school office. λ