Ancient Chinese Arts Enhance Barnard Language Studies

Barnard Mandarin Magnet Elementary School students don’t just learn the Mandarin language… they eat, breathe, sleep, and dance it, too. Barnard students are instructed for 50 – 80% of their day in Mandarin, including in-depth instruction in the ancient Chinese arts. In partnership with the Confucius Institute at San Diego State University, students are taught tai chi, abacus, calligraphy, tea ceremony, national dances, poetry, and more by visiting Chinese and Taiwanese teachers. This not only gives the students a better perspective on the culture from which the language derives, but it also gives them an opportunity to use the language in settings that are not just purely academic.

The students are learning the arts quickly. In the 2016-17 school year, presentations of Mongolian dance, Peking opera, Chinese paper cutting, and abacus were popular among Barnard students at local language competitions and performance circuits. Students have excelled in some of the more obscure arts as well, such as hulusi (a Chinese gourd flute) and kuaiban (a combination of rap and storytelling that uses a wooden clacker to keep the beat).

Ruixia “Ivy” Dang is a visiting Confucius Institute teacher. She is responsible for coordinating the cultural arts program at Barnard, and she also teaches folk dancing in several classrooms each week.

“Teaching at Barnard means so much more to me than merely helping students learn a language; it is enriching their lives with an entire culture,” said Ms. Dang. “In China, you cannot separate the language from the culture. Doing it Barnard’s way is best for the students, and it is also a lot more fun.”

Watch Barnard students perform on the stage at this year’s Downtown Chinese New Year Festival on February 24th and 25th. For more information on Barnard Mandarin Magnet Elementary School or to find out about the District’s School Choice program, visit