Young people get a weeklong glimpse of China


Kathy Henley, one of the lead instructor for the Chinese culture summer camp, helps a group of campers sing the "Two Tigers," song in Chinese during a program celebrating the end of the camp at the Northwest Boys & Girls Club.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, June 20, 2014 at 10:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 20, 2014 at 10:27 p.m.

In the pale green main room of the Boys & Girls Club of Alachua County, the American students brought to life a few tidbits of Chinese tradition and culture that are thousands of years old.

Donning headdresses adorned with paper snakes and carrying lanterns made of construction paper, 20 or so students, ages 4 to 16, gathered at the front of the room Friday evening and sang songs in Chinese for their family.

The performance was the culmination of a weeklong visit by 16 Chinese language teachers through the StarTalk program, a federally funded project that promotes teaching of “critical need” languages.

“Students learn the culture, learn the words, they learn the song and dance,” said Danling Fu, a professor at the University of Florida’s College of Education, which collaborates with the Chinese department to orchestrate the program.

StarTalk at UF began six years ago, Fu said. Chinese teachers participate in two weeks of online professional development wherever they’re teaching, then meet for one week in Gainesville to get the hands-on training with College of Education professors.

Four years ago, the program added a classroom component. Teachers spend three to four hours in a classroom at the Boys & Girls Club, for four days, testing out new teaching practices while guiding students through basic Chinese language skills, culture and traditional activities.

The Chinese program has become a major focus of the summer curriculum, Boys and Girls Club unit director Neal Gillespie said.

Gillespie was skeptical at first.

“In the back of my mind, I was like, ‘How are we going to keep my kids entertained for three to four hours a day?’ ”

But the chance to learn something new and exotic proved to be a huge draw for them.

“When they go to school, they’re going to learn math, they’re going to learn reading,” Gillespie said. “But this is brand new.”

It’s new for the teachers, as well.

Vinona Lei has been teaching weekend Chinese classes in Atlanta for six years.

She got to trade tricks with the veteran teachers and help out some brand-new ones.

This week, she experienced learning centers for the first time — a method of breaking a class into small groups that work on different skills or activities, then rotating the groups.

Lei said the training has been invaluable.

“That is a very new concept for me,” she said. “I never had this training before.”

Over the week, the Gainesville students learned about Chinese language and culture through four important festivals in the Chinese calendar: the New Year festival, the Lantern Day festival, the Dragon Boat festival and the Moon festival.

On Friday, four groups of students had a chance to showcase their new talents.

The teachers opened with a traditional ribbon dance, which is a part of the Moon Festival.

Then, they led students through rounds of Chinese lyrics, set to tunes like “London Bridge Is Falling Down” and “Frère Jacques.”

Afterward, students, parents and teachers sampled a feast of Chinese food.

Shelby Moore and her mother, Christel Hayden, sat near the front of the room, munching on fried rice.

Shelby, 10, said her favorite part of the week was learning how to say, ‘Hello, my name is Shelby’ in Chinese, which she can do without hesitation: “Ni hao, wo-duh ming-d’zih Shelby!”

Hayden said she loved the performance, and the fact that her daughter was getting exposure to another culture.

“It’s good for the kids,” she said. “They get to learn something different, something they might not see otherwise.”

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gainesville.com.

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