Gates Elementary to celebrate Chinese New Year with wish tossing tradition

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Chesterfield County Public Schools serves a diverse community of learners. Teachers go the extra mile every day to find innovative ways to connect with their students and encourage them to explore and welcome differences.

Team Chesterfield staff members embrace and celebrate the diversity of one another and their students because they recognize that together these differences make a stronger learning community. One such teacher who exemplifies this mindset is Kai Chen, the lead Chinese teacher at Gates Elementary.

Staying true to their diverse community and inclusive school culture, Gates Elementary boasts a robust Chinese language program where students learn the language while also learning about Chinese culture and traditions. In previous years, Mr. Chen organized a grand event for students and families to celebrate the Chinese New Year. It quickly became a cherished school tradition.

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, a large in-person celebration is not possible this year. Whether students are attending school virtually or in person, Mr. Chen recognized how difficult this last year has been and wanted to give them a sense of normalcy and joy by finding a way to continue the Chinese New Year tradition the school looks forward to each year.

This year, Mr. Chen reimagined the event and created a Trees of Hope exhibition and Wish Tossing to safely bring the community together to celebrate the Year of the Ox. Wish Tossing is a common Chinese tradition where people toss red ribbons with their written hopes for the year onto a designated tree. The exhibit will also feature student- and teacher- created Chinese ornaments and decorative arts traditionally used in bringing in the Chinese New Year.

On Feb. 12, the first day of the Chinese New Year, students at Gates Elementary will learn how to write love 爱, peace 和, fortune 福. They will write their wish for the new year on their ribbons during class, and then go outside to toss their wish into one of the school’s designated Wishing Trees. There will be a tree in the cafeteria so that students with accessibility needs can participate as well.

Virtual students and their families also are invited to participate in this event by creating their own paper lantern and wish ribbons. This video tutorial shows students and families how to make their own paper lanterns and wish ribbons.

Because the event is outside where participants can appropriately socially distance, families are invited to participate in this event from 9- 9:30 a.m. during student drop off or from 4- 4:30 p.m. during student pick up. In the event of inclement weather, students and families will celebrate on Feb. 18.

About the Wishing Tree of Lam Tsuen

The Wishing Tree of Lam Tsuen is located in Fangmapu village in Tai Po Lam Tsuen, New Territories. The ancient banyan tree that grows in the village attracts many visitors during the Chinese New Year and other festivals.

Visitors make a treasure from red paper and tie them to oranges. They write the name of the person for whom they are making the wish, date of birth and the wish on the treasure. Once it is finished, they throw the treasure to the ancient banyan tree and make a wish for children, marriage, school, career, family home, wealth and health with the hopes that their treasure will not fall. If the treasure remains in the tree, it is thought that the wish will come true.

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Student making a wish during Chinese new year
Students making a wish during Chinese new year

Students in Dr. Allen’s third-grade class add their wishes to the Gates Elementary indoor Wishing Tree.