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Students learn about cultures at Chinese New Year celebration
First-grade teacher Rebecca Cribbs hands a piece of Chinese candy to Alex Vanderwolf, 6, while Alayna Elizalde, 7, reads her prize during a game Friday at a Chinese New Year celebration at the World Language Academy. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

The World Language Academy rang in the Chinese New Year Friday evening, drawing together students and their families for a multicultural celebration.

The Chinese New Year began Feb. 14 and lasts 15 days. Students in Mandarin teacher Mei Shan Spradlin’s class have studied unique traditions surrounding the holiday, decorating good luck charms to hang on walls and doors to ward off evil spirits and wearing China’s signature red color for good luck.

“I hope they enjoy this part of the Chinese culture,” Spradlin said. “They get to see what the Chinese do during the New Year and we try to make it very authentic.”

This is the 4,707th year in the Chinese calendar and the year of the tiger.

Kids swarmed the halls at the academy throughout the night, racing in and out of rooms where they watched slides of China landmarks flash by on a projector screen and used chopsticks to fish marshmallows and candies out of bowls.

“Xin nian kuail le,” they recited to Spradlin. “Happy New Year.”

The chatter that filled the room was a mix of several languages, a nod to the academy’s unique approach to language learning. Spanish teachers doled out Chinese candies while playfully quizzing kids dressed in traditional Chinese garb on their Spanish vocabulary.

“It’s just great to watch the joy in their eyes,” said Carrie Woodcock, dual-language coordinator for the school. “They learn to love new cultures and to love others. It’s just a great opportunity.”

People crowded into the school gym to watch performances by students, including a Chinese Yo-Yo demonstration, traditional dances with the Chinese umbrella and a lion dance performance.

For some, the event brought their children a little closer to their own roots.

About 11 years ago, Karen Steelman adopted her daughter, Victoria, from China. At 13, Victoria is active in karate and is already a second-degree black belt. She showed off her skills during the event along with Spradlin’s son, Christopher.

“It’s been a while since we’ve heard people speaking Chinese languages,” said Steelman, who spent two weeks in the country when she picked up her daughter. “It’s been great.”

Dawn Armstrong’s two children attend the school and she has come to the event both years.

“It gives them some exposure they wouldn’t normally have,” she said.

Heath Pitt’s first-grader, Hannah, bounced around the tables of candy in the cafeteria wearing a Chinese-like frock her grandmother purchased for the event.

“She loves it,” he said. “They learn about different types of environments and it’s beneficial to learn different languages.”