OREM -- Hundreds of elementary students descended on UVU this week for a unique summer camp. The two-day camp didn't teach students science or soccer skills, but rather how to speak Chinese. The inaugural Chinese summer days were held for students involved in the dual immersion language program at their local elementary schools and was held to give students a peek into the Chinese culture that they don't get in the classroom.
"The kids learn songs and dancing and tai chi, things that help them associate the language and the culture," said Baldomero Lago, chairman of the department of languages at Utah Valley University and the driving force behind the summer days.
Lago wanted to start the camp as part of UVU's Chinese initiative, which is working to help students and teachers become members of the global community. Lago said as a university it is UVU's responsibility to reach out and help the community and be a resource for public educators, including those teaching foreign languages.
Both parents and students participated in the two-day camp. Students spent the first day in the classroom learning more about Chinese culture and touching up their Chinese speaking skills, while parents got information about tools and resources to help their children through the dual immersion program.
Sherri Robinson, who brought her first-grade daughter from Brigham City to participate, said this is the first year they have participated in the program and that getting advice from other parents was extremely useful heading into the school year.
"I learned a lot about what to expect and how we as parents can help and be involved with our children," Robinson said. "The biggest piece of advice I got was to be involved in the classroom and know what is going on and help the teacher whenever possible."
Students at the event ranged from first-graders just entering the dual immersion program to fifth-graders who have been learning Chinese for four years. The students say the best part of the camp was learning more about Chinese culture.
"We learned a lot of poems and songs," said Hadley Mikkelson, a fifth-grader at Renaissance Academy in Lehi. "I found out they have lots of songs they use to learn, like how to cross the street and don't go if it doesn't say go, they sing about that."
The second day of the camp was spent in a simulated Chinese village, where there was dancing and performances done in Chinese and activities students could do. Students had to do all the activities using Chinese and earned tokens to buy traditional Chinese foods for lunch.
"Learning about the food was the most interesting," said Luke Jacklin, a fifth-grader at Renaissance Academy. "I also learned that they have different kinds of dancing, like eastern dancing and western dancing."
Lago said they hope to keep the camp going in the future, as long as they can get funding. He said he would also like to add programs in other dual immersion languages, like Spanish and French. He said the benefits of holding camps like these are twofold.
"The children get a real-life Chinese experience and get ready for the start of school by brushing up on their language skills," Lago said. "And parents get to learn what to expect and how they can help their children."
This year children from 28 schools in several different school districts including those in Utah County participated, along with 16 Chinese foreign exchange students who are living in Utah County for the summer.