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South Jordan Journal

Chinese New Year brings music, dances and cultural classroom activities to Monte Vista

Apr 12, 2024 12:11PM ● By Julie Slama

Monte Vista sixth graders perform during the school’s Chinese New Year celebration. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Monte Vista fifth grader Tess Visser is looking forward to next school year when as a sixth grader, her grade will be the one to do the dragon dance.

“I’m hoping to play the drums or be the dragon head,” she said. “I like hearing the legend of the Chinese dragon. Some people tell it differently than others, so it’s interesting to hear them.”

She’s been a part of the Chinese New Year festival at her school since first grade when she enrolled in the dual immersion program.

“I was excited to be in it,” she said. “When I was in preschool, my brother started speaking Chinese when he was in first grade, so I wanted to do it. Our Chinese New Year celebration is a lot of fun. I like to hear the Chinese songs and it’s fun to see everyone perform here since we’ve worked so hard on it.”

This year’s school celebration started with sixth graders performing the dragon dance. It was followed by first graders singing, “I’m a Little Blue Dragon” and second-grade students singing about zodiac animals. After a song and dance by third grade, fourth grade shared about the Chinese New Year. Fifth grade’s time spotlighted Chinese New Year before sixth grade performed Tai Chi.

The program was coordinated by Amanda Maloy, the school’s Beverely Taylor Sorenson specialist. 

“It was a collaboration,” she said. “I worked a lot on the choreography and the instruments that went along with the songs; the Chinese teachers worked on the language. I love how I see the students in a different rehearsal format. A lot of them helped me. The third graders completely choreographed their dance. So, the collaboration with not just their teachers, but also with the students.”

Sixth grader Jacob Sorensen appreciates being a part of the Chinese New Year’s festivities He was the tail of the dragon during the dance.

“We get to learn so much about different cultures and that helps us have a different perspective on the world,” he said. “I like the food and the stories; everything they do is related to an old story. There’s the monster dragon story and how the color red and the fireworks come from the monster Nian and so much more.”

Much of the Chinese culture also is incorporated into classrooms.

“We made these diamonds that goes over the door that are red and we wrote, ‘May good prosperity come to you,’” Jacob said. “We learned that by learning and doing good in school, it can lead to good prosperity.”

His class also practiced tongue twisters relating to dragons, which were included in the performance, since it’s the Year of the Dragon.

Fifth graders made paper lanterns.

“It’s cool to see how beautifully they are made even though they’re not real lanterns,” Tess said. “We learned in Chinese culture that grandparents typically give children red envelopes with money or small gifts in them. My teacher gave us candy and a stamp with our Chinese name on it.”

Even non-dual immersion students were engaged in Chinese culture during rotations. For example, in the STEM rotation, students made miniature Chinese rockets which they blew with a straw to see how far they could go, Malloy added.

The dual immersion students also had the opportunity to perform for a Chinese New Year’s program at nearby Bingham High School.

“It’s way better because we have more space to do our actual dances,” Jacob said, who added that since he has performed there for six years, he felt comfortable on the bigger stage in front of a large audience. “It was packed even though the auditorium had more seats. People came who didn’t really know much about Chinese New Year; I hope they had a good time learning about it.”

Tess also thought it was fun. 

“It’s cool we do a different dance every year. We practice in a smaller space so it was weird to be spread out, but I feel like we did a good job, and everyone could see what we were doing better,” she said.

At the end of the celebration, alumni joined them on stage to sing “Gong Xi, Gong Xi,” which is typically sung for the Chinese New Year.

“It’s a traditional song where we welcome everyone who has been Chinese DLI immersion to come up and sing along. It was cool,” said Jacob, who had a high school sophomore brother join him on stage. “He inspired me to study Mandarin. I wanted to be part of this program; I think it would be fun to become a translator for the government or maybe a doctor and work alongside Chinese doctors.”

Tess said she’d like to help other students learn the language.

“I feel like I could help students because I know how hard and frustrating learning Mandarin can be and it would be cool to help other kids get better at it. I’d love to travel in China, too,” she said, adding that she’d like to go on a church mission where she could use the language.

Jacob said studying Chinese is rewarding.

“By knowing the language, we are able to do some of the stuff by being able to speak the language and studying the culture,” he said. “I hope we inspired some kindergartners to want to study Chinese in the fall so they can be part of the Chinese New Year celebration and learn about the world.” λ