By Tom Momberg
The Lunar New Year is celebrated by most eastern Asian cultures, so in Queens — where over 130 countries from around the world are represented — some schools have made it part of their curriculum.
PS 203, the Oakland Gardens School, has had its students perform and celebrate the Lunar New Year for 18 years. And this year, student art commemorating the Chinese “Year of the Monkey” lined the school hallways on parents’ walks into the auditorium for a concert.
“We do this every year, but it just gets bigger and better — taking on a life of its own. It’s especially significant this year, because the actual holiday has officially been given to students and families to celebrate as a day off from school,” said Voula Angelidakis, a reading specialist teacher and Lunar New Year coordinator.
The mayor and schools chancellor announced in June 2015 that the Lunar New Year would officially be recognized as a holiday off from city schools, after Eid al-Adha was officially recognized as a Muslim holiday that spring as well. It is the third school district in the country to give students off on the East Asian holiday.
Monday, Feb. 8, will be the first time students of Asian heritage will have the Lunar New Year day off with their families.
“Because of that, I think this year we have even more parents coming to this event to honor their tradition and heritage. And it’s my honor to promote Korean and Chinese cultures through the arts,” Angelidakis said at the second of four performances planned for the day.
All students were invited to participate in PS 203’s Lunar New Year concert. Many Chinese, Korean and American students were eager to perform conventional ceremonies such as the Chinese dragon and lion dances, violin performances, Korean wedding and fan dances, Chinese ribbon and umbrella dances, as well as traditional Kamishibai storytelling.
Over 60 parent volunteers worked with the students in each performance, staying true to their New Year customs. Many of the works were learned and performed by students in their extracurriculars — dance club and art club.
Another group of students also went out to learn “Nanta,” Korean drums, all on their own outside of school to perform and contribute to the show.
In addition to the special performances, all 975 students learned and were singing two folk songs — the Chinese song “Gong Xi, Gong Xi,” and the Korean song “Ahrirang.”
State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing), state Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside), state Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Flushing) and Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) each made it out to a performance to support the kids at PS 203.
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb