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Islip’s Commack Road Third Graders Explore Authentic Chinese Traditions

Photo courtesy of Islip School District

Brian Smith’s third-grade class at Commack Road Elementary School recently celebrated Chinese New Year with the help of Chin-Yen Cheng Grayer, the mother of one of Smith’s students, Josephine Grayer.

“Mrs. Grayer, who was born and raised in Taiwan, was our teacher today as she proudly immersed the class in one of the most important and enduring Chinese cultural traditions,” Smith said.

Three different learning stations punctuated the celebration, each designed to introduce the students to a different aspect of Chinese culture. The first station was dedicated to Taiwan’s history, culture and geography. Students at this station “visited” Taiwan with the help of various resources provided by Grayer. Smith, who visited Taiwan himself while in college, also provided the students with photographs and insights about the country. The last day of Chinese New Year, also known as the Lantern Festival, was the basis of the next station, in which students created their own Chinese-style paper lanterns.

In the final station, Grayer instructed the class on the ancient art of traditional Chinese calligraphy, an art form she had learned in school as a third-grade student in Taiwan. Wanting to teach the class this art authentically, she provided students with all of the tools necessary to learn: thin red papers prepared for their final writing, practice sheets, Chinese ink, and calligraphy brushes of various sizes and styles. Grayer patiently instructed and guided each student throughout the process as they wrote their own beautiful symbols – “peace,” “school,” “health,” “harmony,” “joy,” “love” – to represent how they felt or wished for themselves or family.

“The whole experience was so moving and wonderful, as we were all drawn into the magic of the moment,” Smith said. “According to the Chinese zodiac, 2024 is the Year of the Dragon. Dragon characteristics include enthusiasm, confidence and a willingness to take on challenges. Our class epitomizes these characteristics normally, but especially so on this day as they took on the mystery of this challenge with wonder, confidence and an abundance of enthusiasm. Students excitedly talked about their work throughout the day and into the next day. Our class thanks Mrs. Grayer for offering us her kindness and graciousness on this Chinese New Year and for gifting us with memories we will not soon forget.”

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