This year, the Year of the Dog arrived on Chinese New Year on Feb. 16. The day before, Brandon Rios, 8, cooked a lot of Chinese food during a field trip. While visiting the home of a parent volunteer at Washington Open Elementary School, Rios practiced stir-frying noodles and vegetables and he also learned to crack an egg to make a red bean cake. After Rios and his student group finished their cooking, they returned to campus with their prepared dishes and met up with the other third-graders, teachers and parents to enjoy a Chinese New Year feast with food from all the field trip groups. The children ate using chopsticks, a nifty skill they had learned in class.
“The tradition of the culinary field trips and Chinese New Year feast has been going on for more than 20 years at Washington Open,” said Davina Racinez, a third-grade teacher at the school. “Growing up with a Chinese grandmother, we were never taught about being Chinese or celebrated Chinese holidays, except that we got red envelopes filled with money on our birthdays. We were encouraged to just be American. So I want the students here to learn about being Chinese and reflect on whatever culture they’re from.”
At the feast, paper lanterns hung from the ceiling. Tangerines were set out. The tablecloths and wall coverings were red, a lucky color in Chinese culture. Homemade entrees included, but were not limited to, rice and noodle dishes, egg rolls, broccoli and beef, mapo tofu and fried wonton. Desserts came in the traditional candy tray: sticky rice cakes, sesame cookies, a fruit salad and Chinese snacks.
For the children and parents, the culinary field trip and feast allowed them to enjoy the company of the school community in both a home kitchen and the classroom. Just ask Eva Zuberek, 9, whose mother opened their home to a student group led by another parent volunteer.
“We made Mongolian beef,” Zuberek said. “We worked as a team. It was fun to cook with all my friends. This lunch is very fun and I like how the teachers celebrate Chinese New Year.”
“We made orange chicken,” said Rupa Nawbatt, a parent volunteer who led another culinary lesson. “We made our dish with oranges, chicken, soy sauce, sugar, salt, ginger, garlic and green onions. I felt comfortable working with the kids because this is my second year doing this. I’d done this with my older son. It was great to be involved in an activity with a different culture.”
Besides learning how to use chopsticks in their classes, the third-graders had been brushing up on Chinese painting and Chinese calligraphy, as well as learning to count in Mandarin. In early March, the third-graders will also march in a Chinese New Year parade.