They're starting a new year by learning the Chinese way

Fourth-grader Dakota Roe twirls a pretend fireworks display he made during a celebration of the Chinese New Year on Monday, Jan. 26, at Lancaster School.
Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published Jan. 29, 2009

Jeanne Paff's kindergartners may not know much about China now, but they will when she's done with them.

Paff's students - one class at Lancaster Elementary School and a second at Salamonie - celebrated the Chinese New Year this week, a prelude to a project that will ultimately have the Huntington County children communicating with a class in Zhu Hai, China, over the Web.

At the moment, though, pretty much all the Lancaster students know about China is that "it's really far," in the words of kindergartner Harley Auler. Classmate Lizzie Preston, though, says she might like to go there someday.

The Lancaster kindergartners, with the help of their fourth grade buddies, celebrated the Chinese New Year on Monday, Jan. 26, the actual day of the celebration in China. Paff's other kindergarten class, at Salamonie, is celebrating today, Jan. 29.

They gathered in a school conference room to make Chinese lanterns, dragon puppets and pretend fireworks. They tried their hand at writing Chinese characters and eating with chopsticks.

The project had its roots, Paff explains, in a group from Huntington University - where Paff's husband, John Paff, is employed - that has visited China to help teachers there sharpen their skills in English and run English camps for children. Adam Drummond, an assistant principal at Lincoln Elementary, was a member of that group and was also in charge of a model classroom in which Jeanne Paff was involved. Paff needed a service project for her class, and the China project was born. It was helped along when Paff applied for and received a grant to help pay for some of the materials.

The Lincoln and Salamonie kindergarten classes will become "sister classes" with their counterparts in Zhu Hai, where the Huntington University group has worked.

The local classes will send a "Flat Stanley" - a cardboard figure named after the main character in a popular children's book - to the class in China, complete with a book journaling his adventures here. The children in Zhu Hai, in turn, will return the figure as well as a chronicle of his adventures in China.

The Lincoln and Salamonie kindergartners plan to read books, in English, and record them on CDs to send to the class in China. The students there can improve their English skills, Paff explains, by listening to those CDs.
Ultimately, Paff hopes, the two classes will communicate directly with a Web cam.