Students celebrate Chinese New Year
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Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011

Students celebrate Chinese New Year

Smith Academy puts focus on culture

For the students in the Chinese program at Smith Academy of International Languages, there was more buzz for their February New Year's celebration than for the traditional changing of the calendars Jan. 1.

Smith Academy of International Languages, on Tyvola Road in the South Park area, is a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade magnet school that offers second-language immersion instruction in Chinese, German, French and Japanese.

A vital part of immersion is understanding cultural traditions. When the Chinese New Year came around on Feb. 3, it was time for an educational celebration.

The Chinese New Year is determined by the lunar calendar, whereas the Western New Year's celebration follows the solar calendar.

In Chinese astrology, there are 12 zodiac animals, each with a different meaning, for a 12-year cycle.

This year, the Chinese celebrated the Year of the Rabbit and said goodbye to the Year of the Tiger. The rabbit symbolizes reliability, friendliness, good luck and creativity.

The Chinese believe that if you're born in the Year of the Rabbit, you are likely to display those traits.

The school auditorium was decked out in a traditional Chinese theme, with lots of red, big calligraphy, rabbit artwork and paper lanterns.

That's where the students in kindergarten through fourth grade put on afternoon and evening performances, from plays to songs to poetry recitations with dance movements - all in Chinese.

More than 1,000 people experienced the East-meets-West celebration, organized by fourth-grade teacher and Chinese program department head Shoufen Chen and a cache of parent volunteers.

A number of local power players attended, including five school board members, members of the Chamber of Commerce and representatives from the Hanban/Confucius Institute, which supported the magnet school's Chinese program last year with a grant. Even N.C. State Treasurer Janet Cowell stopped by.

The audience was impressed, said Chen.

"They were absolutely astonished by how much the kids have achieved," said Chen. "It really opened their eyes."

Chen said 90 percent to 95 percent of students in the Chinese language immersion program are not from Asian families.

After the performances, parents, students and special guests visited the classrooms, where parents had helped prepare traditional Chinese cuisine: dumplings, Chinese noodles and sticky rice cakes.

Chen said the dumplings symbolize good luck, the noodles symbolize a long and healthy life and the rice cakes symbolize one's status improving.

The zodiac animals are pivotal in Chinese culture. To celebrate the Year of the Rabbit, many Chinese families cook a rabbit dish or buy a rabbit to keep as a pet.

"In both (cases), the price of the rabbit has doubled or tripled," said Chen, referring to a recent article she read. "It's extremely important."

Smith Academy also hosted a reception where the parents and local officials could learn more about the school's Chinese program - what immersion is, what the students do at school, why kids want to come there and why parents choose to enroll their kids in a non-traditional school program.

"It's just a fun activity," said Chen. "The kids love it. The parents definitely enjoyed it. We've been doing this five years, and this was definitely the best."

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