Skip to main content

Cottonwood Heights Journal

Ridgecrest students get insider’s look into Beijing Games, Chinese culture

Mar 28, 2022 09:40PM ● By Julie Slama

Third-grade Ridgecrest students watch videos sent by the Olympic Broadcasting Service crew and interns during the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. (Jeny Wariner/Ridgecrest Elementary)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Through a unique opportunity, Ridgecrest Elementary dual immersion students gained an insider’s look into the workings of the 2022 Olympics in China.

Ridgecrest Elementary instructional coach Jeny Wariner’s husband, Ben, along with her daughter Lily, and her boyfriend, Chase McKnight, all who are audio engineers in Utah, worked on the sound production for slopestyle and snocross at the 2022 Beijing Games.

Wariner’s family worked for the Olympic Broadcasting Service crew who came from all over the world. The seven-member crew had eight native Chinese volunteer interns, who were learning how to set up cables and microphones for the events so for example, viewers could hear the sounds the skis and boards made on the rails.

Learning her family was working with the native speakers spurred the idea of giving students at Ridgecrest, which offers dual immersion in Mandarin, the opportunity to ask them questions about the culture and the Olympics. Because of the time difference, Facetime or Zoom wasn’t feasible so instead they exchanged videos during the Winter Games.

“It seemed like a perfect opportunity for them to be able to connect culturally and be able to increase their language production in a meaningful way,” Wariner said. “It’s been so much fun to watch the interaction between them as video pen pals. They’ve been so excited in the hallways asking if I have a new video and when I’ll be sharing it.”

Once established, the correspondence began the second week of the Olympics with fifth-grade students sharing what they did for Chinese New Year and asking about the celebration in China.

“They shared some of the art we made, the songs they learned and about our dual language immersion program. The Chinese interns were blown away. They were so impressed with how proficient our students are in the language and surprised that here in the United States, we are learning Chinese. There was a very strong connection culturally with the interns and that was pretty special to watch,” she said.

Fifth-grader Lydia Starzecki told the Chinese interns about Ridgecrest’s dual immersion program.

“I also told them about how the Tiger is our mascot here and it’s pretty cool that China is celebrating the Year of the Tiger this year,” she said. “We learned what they’re doing, how they have to get up really close to the Olympians with the microphones. I didn’t know people set up microphones and held them for the Olympics. I think it would be really cool to go to China and work the Olympics.”

The videos were shared with the whole school so they could learn from the experience.

“They would address the questions in Chinese first; then, in a separate video, they would address the questions in English so they whole school can participate,” Wariner said.

“I thought it was really cool because we got to ask questions about the Olympics and China and learn a lot that we wouldn’t have gotten to,” fifth-grader Annie Davis said.

Veda Barney, who also is in fifth grade, said at first it was a little nerve-wracking being filmed in front of a camera.

“I was trying to think of everything I was going to say in two minutes and what all I wanted to ask and learn from them,” she said. “We understood most everything, but if we didn’t, our Chinese teacher would translate for us.”

Fifth-grader Talia Chen said students signed up to write questions and then they’d take about 40 minutes to make the videos. They were filmed in different parts of the school to show the interns what school life was like in Utah.

The students’ questions ranged from how many microphones they used for snocross and where they hid all the microphones to if they had met American snowboarder Shaun White (they saw him twice, once by the halfpipe and again in a restaurant).

“They’re really in the background so their interaction is really limited. They did see him eating at the same place, tables away. Eating was all very contained; everything was in a bubble. There were plexiglass dividers at the tables between every person, so it was like they were in their own cubbies,” Wariner said, referring to the health and safety precautions used in light of COVID-19.  “Even getting there was really difficult and challenging. They had to take two COVID tests prior to arriving, the first one was 96 hours and the next 72 hours. If someone tested positive, they isolated until they tested negative, so they were really short staffed while my husband was there his four weeks.”

Students asked about working for the Olympics and if anyone had gotten hurt (yes) in competition.

“My favorite part was getting answers back to all our questions and learning more about their experiences,” fifth-grader Lila Olson said.

Another fifth-grade student, Reese Marino, appreciated practicing language skills.

“Having that experience to talk to people in a different country and a different language before was the best part,” Reese said. “This gave us a real opportunity to learn while talking in Chinese.”

Her classmates also took part in the video exchange. Moya Croft asked which sport in China is the most popular, Nora Jackson asked if athletes had a curfew and Alanna Larsen showed Chinese art they made and asked about Chinese traditions.

Questions also were asked about places the Olympic broadcasters saw. They were able to see the Great Wall of China from a distance, but not visit it up close, Wariner said.

“They could travel in the Genting Snow Park (in Zhangjiakou) and that was the only area they really could travel to outside of Beijing,” she said, adding that often the Chinese interns would make their videos on the 40-minute bus ride they traveled from their lodging to the snow park where they worked from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. in “really, really cold temperatures. They did have some warming huts they could go to, but the interns had the handheld microphones, so they were out there for almost the whole time.”

In fact, Wariner said her husband took hand warmers and used extra wool socks he packed to wrap around the microphones, along with some bubble wrap, so the battery packs for the microphones wouldn’t freeze.

“He could only have his hands out of his gloves for like 10 seconds because immediately it would make his skin crack because it was so cold,” she said.

Fifth-grader Asher Sides-Littenberg asked Wariner’s husband and others how many Olympics they had worked. For her husband, who began with the Salt Lake Games in 2002, this was his eighth summer and winter Olympics.

Wariner hopes to bring in some of the Olympic pins and the stuffed Olympic panda mascot, Bing Dwen Dwen, her family brought back to share with the students and possibly invite them in with their Olympic volunteer uniforms to talk to the students in person. She also hopes to possibly continue to the video exchanges with the Chinese interns even though the Olympics are over.

This isn’t the first time Wariner’s husband has helped students learn about his job in another country. He worked at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and while in Russia, he and his interns communicated with Bella Vista students, where Wariner taught third graders at the time.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to be able to interact and learn about another culture and ask questions about the Olympics, especially a part of it they may never think of,” Wariner said. “It’s just a good way to get to know the world together and make it a little bit smaller.”