By Ivana Cheong
With the recent decision to make McDonald Elementary an international school, most of Wallingford’s children who attend public school will receive half their instruction in either Spanish or Japanese, the same as nearby John Stanford International School.
Those two languages are set for McDonald, but results of a parent survey about which languages should be offered at McDonald also indicated strong interest in Mandarin Chinese. Wallingford parents who favored Mandarin instruction may not know that there’s a Chinese school right here in the neighborhood.
The Mingyuan Evergreen Chinese School opened its doors in 1988 at 4401 2nd Ave NE (Seattle First Church of the Nazarene) and offers classes every Saturday to heritage and non-native children, as well as conversation classes for adults.
On February 12, we attended a Chinese New Year celebration at the school, when a group of parents, teachers, and students gathered to welcome the year of the rabbit.
Frank Fuoco, a student, parent, and president of the board, stood near the door and greeted incoming guests. “Hopefully, the food will be here soon. I’m really excited for it. Did you see that some of the kids are helping to make dumplings in the kitchen?”
One of the factors that set ECS apart from other language schools is the organization’s focus on the community and families. “This school is really more family-oriented than other language schools out there. Everyone helps with everything,” Fuoco said. Parents demonstrated how to make dumplings and teachers helped the kids rehearse their performances for the celebration.
A group of boys started the hour with a lion dance, followed by songs, poems, and a puppet show by teachers and students of different age groups. After each act, Principal Liu Shuhyun gave each student a traditional Chinese red envelope with dollar coins inside to symbolize good luck for the coming months.
Afterward, the kids ran straight to the buffet table to devour the food, a large spread of catered and family-provided dishes and desserts. The parents said that they really valued how everyone pitched in to make the event happen.
“That’s really the goal of a community program like this,” said Gladys Ly-Au Young, a parent. “It’s a conscious effort. Some of the families here are not Chinese, but we have the same purpose.”
Fuoco agreed. “The school has a special blend of teaching Mandarin and Chinese culture and community… like with the dumplings,” he said. “That’s really important to me.” During lunch, a group of young boys discussed smart phones and how to hold chopsticks correctly.
“Everyone here is friends. And I really love how we are rooted in the community,” Fuoco said. “For example, we always get our food from the Rocking Wok for each and every one of our events. And we’ve been renting our space from the same church. We were with them when the church caught on fire. We’ve been through a lot with Pastor Mark, who’s been so wonderful. All these relationships that we have with the neighborhood are great. They’re valuable.”
“Many of the parents joined the board, which has really helped our principal,” Fuoco continued. “She’s actually been at this school for more than 20 years. She’s seen kids go from kindergarten to graduation.”
It has indeed been a long road. “In the mid-‘90s, there were 70 to 80 kids at once,” said Principal Liu. “But since then, bigger schools have opened up. The difference is that we are completely community-based, politically independent. There are other schools that have a large organization backing them, or those who have funding from the Taiwanese government.”
“This year has been a little hard for us,” she continued, “so I really want to thank all of our parents for being so supportive.”
Ivana Cheong is the My Wallingford intern and studies Communications at the University of Washington.