A dragon and lions helped ring in the Year of the Fire Rooster for the 2017 Chinese New Year on Friday at Ashbrook Independent School.

Students in the school’s Chinese language program hosted their 10th annual parade, kicking off a weeks-long celebration of the Chinese New Year, which begins Saturday in accordance to the lunar calendar. 2017 marks the Year of the Fire Rooster, which last fell in 1957.

Friday’s parade featured a dragon dance from the school’s seventh- and eighth-grade classes, a lion dance from the school’s fifth- and sixth-graders and a traditional Chinese New Year’s song and ribbon dance from the second-graders.

Nine students danced through the school’s gym while holding up poles attached to a 20-foot-long dragon to open the parade. The dragon dance, an annual staple of the celebration in China, mimics the river spirit believed to bring good luck to people in the coming year.

Lena Becker-Blease, 13, who got to lead the dragon through the gym to the delight of students and family, had been looking forward to the parade for months.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time in class working on it and it was really cool to get that experience,” Lena said. “It’s something I never really got to grow up with. To see the influence of other cultures is really interesting and it’s really cool that we get opportunities to do that.”

Luh Jang Chen, the school’s Chinese teacher, said students had been preparing for the parade since the beginning of the school year.

“It’s important that they understand the culture and speak the language,” Chen said. “If they love it, they will learn it.”

While the dragon dance has also been a staple of Ashbrook’s celebration, this year’s parade marked the first celebration of the lion dance. Months prior to the dance, Chen led students in creating their own masks as part of an immersive art project, all the while learning the language.

“So as they would have the water, I would say this is how you say water (shui), and as they would dip the newspaper, I would say this is how you say newspaper (Baozhi) in Chinese,” Chen said. “They would hear it and would touch it and it would make the memory easier.”

Principal Melissa Hausmann said Chen also teaches choreography to the students alongside the language.

“The Chinese program is not just about speaking the language. They incorporate a lot of cultural experiences, such as song and dance, and also the artwork. (Chen) does most of the artwork herself,” Hausmann. “We have the best Chinese teacher. … She has built a phenomenal Chinese program. Letting her have the freedom to put on assemblies that really support the Chinese culture means a lot to her and it means a lot to the school.”

The celebration is set to continue through the next couple of weeks with the school’s Foreign Language Festival, a week-long showcase of the school’s foreign language programs.

“It’s really nice to see the progression,” Hausmann said. “Seeing the kids verbalize those skills is just incredible.”

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