Bilingual students strut, and hip-hop, into 4705

By Kristin Edwards

Little girls and boys in black and white outfits and sparkly gold hats dancing to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” were the opening act of the Lunar New Year celebratory dance show at P.S. 184M on Cherry St.

The show took place on three consecutive days, Feb. 14-16, with each grade — pre-K through eighth — having a chance to perform.

“It is the same show [each night], just a different population,” said Ling-ling Chou, the school’s principal.

Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year, is the most important holiday in Chinese culture. It is a two-week celebration that starts on the day of the first new moon of the year. The Chinese calendar revolves around a 12-year cycle, with each year represented by a different animal. This year is the year of the boar, or pig. The year of the boar is a year of wealth, good health and prosperity.

P.S. 184M, the Shuang Wen School, is the city’s only bilingual English-and-Mandarin-language school. An almost two-hour after-school program each day — during which time students study Chinese culture — is mandatory. Such lessons include Mandarin language, dance, poetry, music and drama. The students learned and practiced their dances for the shows during the after-school program. The students had only a month to put their performance together.

“We have other things to do than just dance,” said Chou.

Excluding the opening dance to Ol’ Blue Eyes, the remaining dances were performed to traditional Chinese music. One act featured a dance to a Chinese hip-hop song. Another featured the kids dressed to look like little pigs, with backward baseball caps with little pig ears on them. All the costumes were made by the children’s parents.

Since there were three performances, all of the students, more than 500, were able to have a part in the show. Having three performances also allowed for all the parents and guests to attend, while abiding by fire and safety precautions.

“[The show] was excellent,” said father Jim Griffenkranz. “Every year, the show is a little different,” said his wife, Ching. They have a son, 10, and a daughter, 13, who attend the school.

The audience also included a few members of the community group Robin Hood, an organization that is determined to fight poverty and helps fund P.S. 184M’s after-school cultural program. A member of Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s office also attended, awarding the school a Council proclamation.

In addition to the students’ parents, there were some prospective school parents as well.

“My husband taught a finance lesson to the kids on how 4 cents can turn into $1,000 after several years. My husband was so impressed with the students and their interest in the subject,” said Lina Hsu, who attended the show with her husband and 3-year-old son. The family attended the show in hopes of getting a better feel for the school and what they do there before applying the following year.

The school’s chairperson, Jacob Wong, was also in attendance. He was a part of the committee that put the idea of the school together.

“In 1996 the group had this vision and we came together,” Wong said.

In 1998 the school opened. It started with only two kindergarten glasses of 40 kids. At the time, it was housed in P.S. 134. However as the student body grew, they needed their own building. This is their first year in their new building. They are expecting the number of students to increase. However, the after-school program is underfunded, since the Department of Education only pays for school until 3:30 p.m. Because the after-school program is such an important part of the school experience for them, though, they pay for it using grants and private funding.

Wong was a principal at another school before becoming involved in P.S. 184M. Parents at the other school, unfortunately weren’t very involved, but “the parents are very involved here,” he said.