China in San Diego – How local high schools celebrate Chinese New Year

For many high schools throughout America, the new year came quietly. Celebrations occurred away from campus in the middle of a break, and so when students returned, there was no real recognition of the holiday besides a change in calendars. This was not true for the Bishop's and Francis Parker high schools in the San Diego area. Both Chinese programs made the start of the Chinese New Year an impossible date to ignore.

DSC_1322The Chinese department at Bishop's has had a legacy of extravagant New Year's celebrations. In the past, parents of students in the school's Chinese Honor Society have provided Asian catering and lion dances for the benefit of the school. This year, the festivities were scaled down a little due to construction. However, the impact of the event was very much the same. The entire school was given a spirit  dress down, in which students could wear traditional Chinese dress or at least 50% red clothing items. Ten tables were set up during lunch, and students dined on traditional Asian dishes and participated in Chinese cultural activities. Students of Bishop's Chinese IV Honors class and Asian American Student Group helped lead their classmates in trivia games, taught Chinese greetings, and supervised chopsticks competitions. Of course, all of the Chinese classes of the day were focused on the holiday. According to Mrs. King, one of the school's Mandarin teachers, students used the classes surrounding the holiday to learn greetings and phrases relating to the year of the horse, and advanced students even wrote couplets in Chinese to exchange with friends. The event gave the members of Bishop's Chinese language program the opportunity to not only gain a deeper understanding of the cultural perspective behind what they learn in class, but also to share this new knowledge with their peers. As Xiao è å¸ˆ  (another Bishop's Mandarin language teacher) concluded, It was a fun and successful event. 

DSC_1306Francis Parker differed from Bishop's in its Chinese New Year celebration in that the school did not have a prior standard to live up to. Chinese New Year had always recognized by a few words in the daily announcements and perhaps an activity in each of the Mandarin classes. However, this year the leadership of Francis Parker's Chinese Honor Society decided that the entire student body would recognize the holiday. Chinese honor students and faculty dedicated many hours of work, resulting in dozens of handmade paper star and character decorations and student-made posters. The student leaders of the Chinese Honor Society worked with the Mandarin faculty to design traditional games and activities. Students volunteered to provide Milk Tea with Boba, Chinese dumplings, rice, pizza, and baked goods for purchase. In just a few class periods, the upper school quad was transformed into a Chinese cultural wonderland, complete with kite-flying, origami, chopsticks competitions, and Chinese lion dancing. Even students of Francis Parker's new elementary Mandarin program were transported from the lower school to partake in the activities. They were able to practice basic Chinese with the upper level students who worked the activity booths. All profits from food sales and activity tickets were donated to Storefront Shelter,  a local charity for homeless youth.

It is incredible how great an impact a little cultural recognition can have on a school community. In both environments, students once unfamiliar with Chinese traditions became part of one. One can only hope that someday, every student in America will have the opportunity to experience China's history and culture first hand. Until then, America depends on these small-scale celebrations and activities to convey the incredible richness of a society on the other side of the world. As one young Parker student announced following the Chinese New Year celebration; I'm totally going to sign up for Chinese next year! 

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Sabrina Devereaux

is a high-school senior at Francis Parker School. She has taken Chinese classes in school since the 6th grade and is now enrolled in the most advanced course offered on her campus. She is excited to bring a high-school perspective to the blog and further explore Chinese culture.

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