West Middle School scholars could be found patting a spoonful of Chinese mooncake dough in their hands on September 29. They pinched the dough to secure a filling consisting of egg yolk or red bean paste and used a cookie press to create a beautiful pattern.
Mooncakes are a popular dessert made in China during the Mid-Autumn Festival — a holiday celebrated throughout Asia, and the second largest festival in China. The tradition brings families together to watch the moon, a symbol of harmony and unity.
The in-school cultural experience was organized by three new faces at West Middle School. Likun Zhang, Kexin Wang, and Yu Guo are interns from China working in middle school Chinese immersion classrooms this year through a partnership with St. Cloud State University.
During their year-long stay, Zhang, Wang, and Guo are living with host families from the Hopkins Chinese immersion program, XinXing.
West Middle School parent Jennifer Valorose, has an eighth grader and a fifth grader in XinXing Chinese Immersion. Her family's decision to host an intern was based on a desire to bring Chinese culture into their home without having to travel across the world. Since the arrival of their guest, she has noticed that her eighth grader especially is speaking more Chinese at home.
“As we strive to raise global citizens, exposure to people from other places is a real gift,” Valorose said. “We gain exposure to other ways of living, while also learning more about ourselves.”
Building bridges to connect with the world
Due to health concerns brought on by the global pandemic, it has been challenging to travel internationally. This impacted the eighth grade trip to China that XinXing students look forward to starting in kindergarten. However, even without restrictions on international travel, for some families, the trip to China is not possible for a variety of reasons. Providing cross-cultural opportunities in the classroom allows for more equitable access to enriching experiences.
When Ruoxi Song, Hopkins Innovation, Design, and Learning specialist, discovered the partnership with St. Cloud State University, she knew it would benefit the immersion program in Hopkins and enhance classroom learning.
“We can bring the world into their classrooms so that every Chinese immersion student will have a similar chance to interact with authentic culture and language,” Song said.
During the week of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the interns taught students about the cultural components of the celebration. They provided a first-hand account of what it is like to celebrate in China.
Bringing Chinese community to class
The Chinese immersion teachers have seen a Chinese community flourish since the interns arrived. Teachers are noticing increased engagement, new ideas, activities, and perspectives. Immersion students are listening to conversations between multiple authentic speakers rather than only hearing a teacher speak to them.
“It always makes students feel more excited when they see some change,” said Qian Xu, Chinese immersion teacher.
The addition of new Chinese speakers in the classroom also brings more energy and engagement to learning. Students are truly immersed in a multilingual experience and are surrounded with heritage speakers. Just as language and pronunciation vary heavily throughout the U.S between different regions, China also contains a multitude of cultures with unique perspectives, accents and pronunciations.
Lixia Shi, another Chinese immersion teacher, said she has lots of ideas to increase student engagement with the intern program, especially when it comes to sharing culture. Shi believes language and culture are intertwined and that it is just as important to understand Chinese culture as it is to understand the language.
“I think it will be a great year, there are a lot of things we can do this year with their help,” Shi said.