By Joel Hall
On the first day of the Chinese lunar new year, students at Callaway Elementary School in Jonesboro took the lessons they have been learning about China and turned them into a celebration of massive proportions.
On Thursday, teachers, faculty and students from kindergarten to fifth grade, took to the halls and participated in a parade celebrating China's 'year of the rat.'
Every homeroom went through painstaking details to make sure every corner of the school was decorated with a Chinese theme. A large Chinese flag hung in the foyer, while red paper lanterns and Chinese symbols for "happiness" hung in the hallways.
Shortly after the first bell of the day, about 80 students marched in a parade, led by a long dragon designed by art teacher Laura Drukman and several students. While several classrooms stood watch, dozens of students walked through the halls of the school waving banners, clanging gongs and cymbals, and wearing traditional Chinese clothing.
Music teacher, Jo Baker, acted as chair of the multicultural committee, which organized the event.
The committee organized a similar parade in 2005, during the 'year of the rooster.' Baker said China's increased presence on the world stage inspired the school to hold a parade and dedicate most of the semester to studying the country's culture and history.
"This is the second time we've had this parade," said Baker. "The kids really enjoyed it the last time we had it. China is in the news a lot, so we are trying to teach them about it."
Learning about China has become a school-wide effort this semester, Baker said. While students in the fourth and fifth grades studied about the economics, environmental issues, and current events in China, children in the lower grades studied Chinese music and writing symbols.
Art teacher Drukman said students and teachers went the extra mile during this year's parade. Several modifications were made to the school's dragon, including a lower jaw, a beard, a tail, and poles which allowed the students to move the dragon in a more snake-like motion.
"Before, the children were just under [the dragon], but the poles added flexibility," said Drukman. "This year was much better. The kids were more involved with it this year."
During art classes, students studied traditional Chinese brush paintings, block prints, and ancient art. Drukman said this semester's Chinese focus "broadens [the students'] horizons and introduces them to culture that they are not familiar with."
Baker said she tried to explain to students that "Gung Hay Fat Choy" (a Chinese new year salutation, which means 'good luck and prosperity') was not so far from America's tradition of eating black-eyed peas and collard greens, which symbolize the same thing.
"Our traditions aren't that different," said Baker. "This is a good motivator to teach them about Asian culture ... culture that they aren't used to."