Ever since hearing in early spring that Kiddo’s class would have a graduation ceremony on June 24, I was excited. It’s not for every level – it’s the first graduation ceremony and he’s completing three years – and after three hard years, he’s finally done the “Kindergarten” levels. The first years a “Pre-school”, followed by “Kindergarten 1” and “Kindergarten 2”.
As we completed the third year, I looked back on it as the hardest year so far, and with rose-coloured glasses, think on that pre-school year as free of challenges. Was it really? Yes! Relatively! Over the years, Kiddo was harder to reign in to do homework and he started to question why he has to learn Chinese when no one he knows is doing it, getting him to pay attention in class (and not fidget or doodle or disappear for long stretches because he doesn’t use the bathroom earlier or not drag out his snack through the whole class). In each of the kindergarten years, I started to focus on the lower hanging fruit, getting him to finish the writing homework but not going over recitation enough. He loathes the practice but enjoys the mastery he attains. This year, his retention of the characters he practiced was much lower and he was not completing his exercises every week.
The first year, his teacher was Teacher Zhu and she was our first exposure to Mandarin lessons and early on, a parent asked why she doesn’t explain things in English. In just Mandarin, she explained and I guess the gist is that the kids will learn more if they don’t see the flexibility of her using English in class. Plus, the teachers’ English has not been very good. The kindergarten years were with Teacher Li whom I felt had little control over the online class but at the same time, the kids are getting older and distractable and onto their third year of Zoom learning.
I keep entertaining the idea of in-person learning, reduce the stress that is 90 minutes every Tuesday afternoon to get him to attend class and not slump back and roll his eyes. He has increasingly been reluctant to finish exercises during the class. In the 2023-24 school year, I originally thought I might enroll Baby and Kiddo for in-person learning but a few things: their classes aren’t at the same time unless we go to Richmond (no, not gonna do that every week for some 30 weeks of the year), there isn’t a singing (no writing) class being offered for Baby’s age, and Baby is clearly not ready for the homework level at age 4 that Kiddo started at age 5, even if she is old enough to be enrolled in Pre-school.
How much longer will Kiddo stay in Chinese school given his reluctance and the challenges that I bare alone to get him to attend class and almost alone to get him to do homework? The first year, I didn’t understand what the teacher was mentioning about the recitation competition and following the second year we missed out, I felt badly we missed it. So during the third year, with the deadline during our Alaska cruise, it was the only homework he did, to practice and record his submission.
I still don’t understand the teacher except because of context and routine over three years of similar format classes and workbooks. What does elementary school bring? More composition and more speaking, I hope. How will Kiddo (and I) do in Grade 1?
Graduation was on a Saturday at an auditorium of the school’s in the Vancouver Chinese Cultural Centre (VCCC). Kiddo was familiar with the gym because in the summer of 2022, he attended a week of camp at VCCC, “Chinese camp” (although not a lot of Chinese was taught. It was at 1 until 2:30 and the “awards ceremony” was at 2:30. A few weeks before the ceremony date, I learned that in the “global” recitation competition, Kiddo and a pile of other kids had attained first place! What is going on?? We were headed to Whistler right after the ceremony to spend two nights, which was arranged at the end of last year but NPY only tried to change the reservation months after I told him he needed to and he couldn’t.
I knew there was a graduation gown and I was down for that. Kiddo did not want to wear a graduation gown but – to his credit – he thought he was wearing it alone, that’s how I did not prepare him for it all. But no, kids from his class up to high school grad-aged kids were milling in the courtyard and foyer of the auditorium taking photos with classmates and parents. “Did you invite my parents?” NPY asked. No. It didn’t occur to me and further, I had no idea how the ceremony would even be – what if it’s not worth their time? NPY had the presumption it would be tacky and terrible.
But it wasn’t. It’s not a piddly ceremony for just his class but one for all the levels that have a graduation, for the three campuses of the school (Vancouver, Richmond, Coquitlam). It was also entirely conducted in Cantonese and Mandarin but more Cantonese in that when some politicians or presidents of Chinatown organizations and headmaster(s) spoke, it was in Cantonese. I had basic understanding but at the same time, I couldn’t tell when it was Kiddo’s turn except that someone was organizing the kids and he had stood up to line up to go on stage.
There was a fair amount of pomp and circumstance with the gowns and formality and dual languages. It was a great photo opportunity while they were going on stage, shaking hands, looking somewhat bewildered amongst the “friends” they only saw in Zoom albeit for three school years. And there was a photo frenzy for each graduating class as the parents lined up four deep to take photos from the most central angle.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stick around for the competition awards ceremony which did not start at 2:30 and Baby was super antsy and tired and Kiddo’s patience was wearing thin. Since I couldn’t express how important (or not) the next part was, NPY left for the car. Many more people descended on the auditorium and while it was moderately busy for the school ceremony, it was packed. You see, the competition was open to students of Chinese studies all over the city and basically if you submitted an entry, you got a prize. I’m not sure why someone wouldn’t get “first prize” unless their entry was somewhat incomplete.
There were drawing competitions and recitation competitions for all ages and I couldn’t tell when Kiddo’s cohort would be announced, if he would get the right prize. We could see that tens, hundreds of cheerful gift bags were lined up on tables along the back of the stage. When I asked for assistance, the response was laughter that I didn’t know what was going on and did I even know his name in Chinese. Well, yes, but in the midst of the mayhem, I couldn’t pay attention to every name rhymed off and I swear his was never called and I told him to get on stage and get a bag. It hardly mattered and it looked like they were giving gift bags according to their approximate size and age. It was filled with not pricey trinket items the most interesting of which were accessories that fit his Crocs knock-offs and a cute pair of ultra-cheap sunglasses.
With that, we were clambering into the car and off to Whistler for the weekend!