“Ni hao” and “xinnián kuàilè,” which mean “hello” and “Happy New Year” in Chinese, were two phrases a Kelly Springs Elementary student said she learned during her Chinese classes over the last year.
Zoha Naish said she knows words in five languages, including English, Spanish, Arabic and now Chinese, thanks to teachers from Troy University’s Confucius Institute who come to her school.
Naish said the most recent thing she learned in her class was that people in China celebrate two New Years. On Friday morning, she got to learn firsthand how people on the continent to the east revel the holiday by being a part of traditional Chinese New Year celebration inside her school’s auditorium.
Joanna Jiang, a teacher with the Confucius Institute, said Chinese New Year’s Eve seemed an appropriate day to share a little bit about the Spring Festival Celebration, which starts Saturday and ends Feb. 4.
“We want to share Chinese culture with a Chines traditional festival with our children, so we wanted the Zhou Family Band to perform with us together and celebrate this festival,” Jiang said.
Volunteers from the Confucius Institute performed a traditional lion dance that Chinese typically perform during Spring Festival celebrations thought to bring communities good fortune. The Zhou Family Band performed upbeat traditional Chinese folk music alongside them, while the entire student body looked on in awe of the enthusiastic display of bright colors and listened to the tunes made by ancient instruments like the sheng mouth organ and dizi flute.
Students clapped along as band members, whose ancestors played in the Royal Court of the Qing Dynasty, beat on traditional Chinese drums, clashed cymbals together and laughed as one member practiced kaxi, a combination of voice and blown instrument played by the same musician to imitate opera singing, with a blend of theatrical stunts for a humorous flair.
Principal Wanda Dismukes said Chinese has been taught at Kelly Springs through a partnership with the Confucius Institute for five years and that her school’s new International Baccalaureate designation encourages learning about other cultures around the world.
“We are looking at becoming international learners,” she said. “The children love it.”
Confucius Institute faculty teaches students starting in the first grade about Chinese culture, customs, history and facts along with some language skills.
Dismukes said students are able to take the Chinese proficiency exam and many, as young as second grade, have passed them.
“Kelly Springs has always had a diverse population and we embrace that, so this has just added knowledge about other traditions, other countries and it’s been great for the kids,” Dismukes said.
Spanish as a language is also taught at Kelly Springs as of this school year.
The Spring Festival officially starts Saturday to celebrate the beginning of the lunar calendar for 2020, the “Year of the Rat.”