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A Happy New Year

Stafford Primary School students learn about a different culture by celebrating the Chinese New Year
by: Vern Uyetake, Stafford Primary fourth-grader Grace Lamb, left, helps first-grader Caitlin Strader learn to use chopsticks. The event at Stafford was part of a Chinese New Year celebration.

Anyone driving past Stafford Primary School last Friday morning might have caught a peculiar sight in his or her periphery. Outside Patrick Minor's fourth grade class, a roughly 15-foot-long dragon slowly lifted its head and took shape.

Minutes later, it entered the classroom to the sounds of drums and music, circling three times before stopping. Then, a small group of fourth graders emerged from underneath it and took their seats.

For just more than a week, Minor's class has been learning about the traditions surrounding the Chinese New Year and last Friday marked the culmination of its work.

Three Stafford students gave brief presentations on the Chinese New Year to their first grade buddies, who were invited to join them. A brief summary on what the students had learned was given as they explained that 2007 is the Year of the Pig. The first graders were then treated to a lesson in the proper way to use chopsticks.

'The kids were great at using the chopsticks. We practiced using hazelnuts and I thought it would be really tough for them but most of them picked it up quickly,' Minor said.

Minor's class did numerous projects in a relatively short period of time. They listened to a number of Chinese stories, learned about the traditions surrounding the New Year celebration and completed art projects such as paper lanterns and papers with Chinese characters on them, which are said to ward off evil spirits.

'I put some in my backpack to keep myself safe,' fourth-grader Henry Winn said.

The event was particularly meaningful for fourth-grader Emily Brother, who was adopted from China as a baby. Brother's father, Martin, took on the job of building the large dragon while her mother, Sue, purchased food for the feast the students enjoyed at the end of their presentation.

'We learned a lot about the culture and about what the foods mean. I think today was my favorite part (of the unit,)' Emily Brother said.

The Brothers returned to China two years ago to visit and show Emily where she was born.

A handful of mothers volunteered their time to prepare a number of traditional Chinese foods for the kids, including orange chicken, sticky rice, dumplings, egg rolls and, of course, fortune cookies.

'We learned a lot. I think my favorite part was practicing the parade and doing that today,' fourth-grader Rochelle Biancardi said.

After a quick break for recess, the students returned for what turned out to be one of the highlights of the morning. While firecracker displays are common in Chinese New Year celebrations, that was obviously not a possibility in a confined classroom.

So large rolls of bubble wrap were laid on the floor and the students had the opportunity to gleefully stomp them, making more than enough noise to scare away any evil spirits.

'We call it 'safe firecrackers,'' Minor said. 'This was really about the experience for the students and giving them an opportunity to experience something from another culture.'