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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Butler Middle students learn about Chinese culture

Apr 03, 2018 03:16PM ● By Julie Slama

Butler Middle School students look at a scroll of traditional characters during their Chinese New Year celebration. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]


Butler Middle dual-immersion students were able to try Chinese calligraphy, learn traditional paper cutting, create fortune tellers and paper art, make dumplings, observe Chinese customs and sample sushi rolls during their Chinese New Year celebration event.

“We hope they can learn about Chinese culture by doing these activities and crafts and hope it will motivate them to want to learn more,” said Butler Chinese teacher Wenrui Chen. “We teach language with culture, history and media.”

Chen said that in the classroom, the culture extends from pop culture and what is trending in China to ancient medicine and martial arts. Chen, who volunteered during the Beijing Olympics, said students also followed Chinese athletes during the Olympics.

The Chinese New Year event, celebrating the Year of the Dog, was organized by the Utah Chinese Association, who approached the school wanting to share their talents with the school, said assistant principal Doug Hallenbeck.

“This is a great opportunity for our students to be exposed to different aspects of the culture,” he said. “I hope it helps them practice the language and be able to communicate with folks in our community and this strengthens our relationship with the Chinese association.”

Sixth-grader Gabrielle McCall’s favorite activity was trying her hand at the calligraphy.

“It was really fun to write calligraphy with a paintbrush and they gave me help so I could do it right,” she said. “We learned from the Utah Chinese Association about Chinese artifacts, heard him play on a whistle and saw characters written on a silk scroll.

The scroll rolled from the second floor banner to the commons, where the activities were being held.

Gabrielle’s classmate, Cheyenne Frank, said they cut paper as a traditional art form.

“They usually put them in the windows for decorations,” she said. “We also made red pocket envelopes and put in papers with happy messages for good fortune for the year.”

Chen said the opportunity is interactive and engages students.

“We can show pictures or show them lanterns and fans, but through this celebration, they’re learning about the culture and trying their hands at the customs. In our sixth-grade classroom, we have tried using chopsticks and learned about traditional clothing when we study civilization and history. In seventh and eighth grade, they learn more on the culture,” he said.

Chen and his wife Haitao Zhao, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade Chinese classes, bring items to show students from each visit back to their homeland.

“We want them to learn about Chinese culture and compare it to their own and notice the similarities and differences,” he said.

Part of the class includes learning about holidays. Chen said they study the Chinese New Year in their classroom.

“We learn more about the New Year each year through reading the legend of the new year, why red is important to Chinese culture and why we do what we do,” he said, referring to the story of the Chinese Zodiac calendar and the Legend of Nian, which tells the origins of the hanging of the red scrolls and lanterns and use of firecrackers, which now is common with new year celebrations.

For eighth-grader Asher Stewart, who was pinching dough to make dumplings, it was about having fun.

“I’ve never made them before, but they showed us how to do it,” he said.

His classmate, Christopher Steck, said he had fun with the new year activities.

“We got to do a lot of fun activities,” he said. “We made fortune tellers, learned how to make dumplings and got to learn a lot about their new year.”