By Gary Walker
It was East meets West in more ways than one when a group of Chinese musicians and singers arrived in Los Angeles on Feb. 1 to take part in a unique concert that displayed the capabilities and benefits of living in a world equipped with 21st century technology.
Chinese performers have visited Los Angeles in the past, but this troupe were children of middle-school age who took part in a cultural celebration at Mark Twain Middle School in Mar Vista, which is a world languages magnet.
The “Kaleidoscope” concert at the middle school’s auditorium is the latest initiative that the language magnet is undertaking in an effort to teach children the customs, cultures and languages of diverse nations and continue to develop a growing pipeline in Venice/Mar Vista area schools that spotlight foreign languages and cultures as a large part of their curriculum.
Broadway Elementary School in Venice and Grand View Boulevard Elementary School in Mar Vista have instituted Mandarin and Spanish immersion, respectively, at their schools.
The King Far School Orchestra in Xi’an, China, one of the top orchestra schools in Asia, performed along with Mark Twain’s Bell Ringers, who entertained audiences at the 2012 London Summer Olympics. There was also a performance of a Chinese dance and the singing of a traditional Chinese New Year song by students at Broadway Elementary.
The celebration of the Chinese New Year, which falls on Sunday, Feb. 10, served as the backdrop for the concert as well as a number of cultural and language related themes throughout the day at the school, including art projects by Mark Twain students that featured designs and drawings of Chinese symbolism and characters.
The unique portion of the event was that many of the students’ parents in China were able to see their children perform in the United States. Through the use of Skype, an Internet phone service provider that allows free calling between computers, Mark Twain was able to use its videoconferencing software to connect with parents in China.
On a screen in the auditorium, the concert was shown in China, where it was Feb. 2. in real time.
Jorge Gallego, Mark Twain’s technology coordinator, noted how technology can be used in pursuing the middle school’s dream of connecting students from different nations without traveling thousands of miles.
“The (King Far) students are attending a boarding school and they come from many different parts of China, so there was no way that we could get them all together,” Gallego explained. “So we’re connecting with them through Skype, and during the concert we will be able to connect with many of them and the audience will be able to see the Chinese families projected on the screen.”
Dr. Rex Patton, Mark Twain’s principal, said in an interview after the concert that his school and King Far had agreed to become “sister schools.”
“Part of what world languages is about is to connect through videoconferencing, and we bring the materials and the instruction to connect with people all over the world so our children can hear them speaking in their native language,” he said.
The student art project was part of an art walk earlier in the day. Students from all grade levels participated and experimented with Chinese letters and symbols.
“Art is a good emotional outlet for students,” said Laura Goldin, who teaches grades six through eight. “Our students are preteens and teenagers and at this time in their lives they’re going through a lot, so (art) is a great way for them to use as a conduit to express their emotions.”
One student drew a solitary flower with black flowers all around it because she said she “sometimes feels that nobody likes me.”
Goldin said that is an example of how art can help students who are otherwise introverted express themselves. “For many of our students, this is the best way for them to express themselves,” she said.
Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education Member Steve Zimmer attended the event and talked about the “Renaissance of public education in Venice and Mar Vista.”
Zimmer, who represents Mar Vista in LAUSD’s District 4, praised Patton as a “Renaissance principal” who has overseen the academic overhaul of Mark Twain.
Patton said he invited many of the local elementary schools to attend the cultural event because he is eager for the public to see the academic strides that they have made in recent years as well as showcase the language immersion program, which includes Spanish and English.
“We’re really excited about all of the wonderful things that we’re doing at Mark Twain,” said the principal, who has seen his school’s standardized test scores rise 115 points in four years. “We’re trying to grow our school, our reputation and we’re trying to grow quality here.
“We need them to see the new Mark Twain. And this concert was only one of many things that we’re doing to (showcase) what we’re doing here,” Patton concluded.