Middle School Mandarin Classes Experience Philadelphia Chinatown Culture

Ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday, 37 seventh and eighth grade Middle School Mandarin students traveled to Philadelphia’s Chinatown on January 24 to participate in a number of interactive cultural experiences. The field trip was designed to allow students to expand their understanding of Chinese culture, outside academic study in the classroom, by showing them how Chinese history, music, food, and traditions are embraced by Philadelphia community members in everyday life. Leading the field trip were Mandarin Teachers Li Li and Cathy Wang, while World Language Department Chair Rob Nasatir, Middle School Math Teacher Karen McHugh, and Middle School English Teacher Deb Casne also attended.

To begin their day, the group visited the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC) office to hear a brief historical introduction about the neighborhood from Ms. Li’s daughter, Lamei Zhang, a special projects associate at PCDC. Ms. Zhang explained that, although PCDC provides many programs and services for Chinatown community members, the organization’s overarching mission is to protect, promote, and preserve Chinatown as a unique cultural treasure within Philadelphia.

The middle schoolers then continued with their respective grade-level itineraries. Seventh grade toured the streets to observe the many historical murals of Chinatown that depict the stories of the community’s memories of struggle and survival.

“Because my students are learning the Chinese language, I think it’s important for them to know more about the Chinese people, especially in Philadelphia’s Chinatown,” said Mrs. Wang. “The Chinese community has largely been ‘silent’ because of the language barrier so the murals help explain how hard the Chinese community has worked to survive. It gives students perspective into a world that may be different than their own.”

Meanwhile, the eighth grade stopped in at Cheung’s Hung Gar Kung Fu Academy. The students were treated to professional demonstrations by members of the academy, who then taught a few beginner lessons in kung fu movements, Lion Dance performance, and Lion Dance traditional drumming.

Seventh and eighth grade joined together again for lunch at Sakura Mandarin to enjoy an authentic Chinese New Year banquet meal, as well as some karaoke singing of famous songs that the students learned in class. Following lunch the middle schoolers explored shops and a local supermarket to purchase souvenirs.

The eighth grade class next visited the Chinese Arts Center in Philadelphia where they learned how to play two traditional Chinese string instruments — a guqin, the most classical Chinese instrument with over 3000 years of history, and an erhu, a two-stringed fiddle.

Before the students returned to Moorestown Friends, the middle schoolers stopped at a bubble tea shop for one more sweet treat.

Mr. Nasatir emphasized how valuable trips such as these are to middle school students’ world language education.

“When thinking about world language study, we tend to think of a language and culture of belonging in other countries,” said Mr. Nasatir. “But field trips like the day in the Philadelphia Chinatown for our middle school learners shows students that world languages and cultures are in our neighborhood, and world languages are in fact American history and culture too.”

View photos from the field trip here
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