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American fourth-graders proud to be pen-pals with Chinese President Xi

By Julia Pierrepont III, Gao Shan (Xinhua)    14:14, March 05, 2020

Cascade Elementary School students show their poster to cheer on China's fight against the novel coronavirus outbreak, in the town of Orem in the U.S. state of Utah, on Feb. 7, 2020. (Photo by Zheng Yamin/Xinhua)

LOS ANGELES, March 3 (Xinhua) -- Fifty 4th-graders from Cascade Elementary School in the town of Orem made their home state Utah in the western United States very proud recently, when Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a letter in reply to the many Happy Chinese New Year cards they all sent him.

"Cool! I can invite President Xi to eat doughnuts together if he visits Utah in the future," said 9-year-old Sarah, while some of her classmates noted that they would rather invite the Chinese president to come ski in the Beehive state.

"We are so proud. It's big news here," said Cascade Elementary School Office Secretary Marci Nichols.

The idea of writing to the Chinese president came from those students and was supported by their Mandarin teacher Zheng Yamin, who also gives lectures on Chinese culture and festivals at the Salt Lake City Public Library in Utah's capital.

"I love the kids," she told Xinhua about her students. "They are so eager to learn and love many things about Chinese culture."

Their favorite things? "Pandas," she laughed. "And Jiaozi (Chinese dumplings)."

Believing that writing letters to China can enable the students to apply their Chinese language skills to real-life situations, she suggested they become pen pals with people in China, an idea the students happily embraced.

"I was very surprised when the kids suggested, 'Why don't we write to someone really important? Like President Xi!'" She told Xinhua.

Days before the Spring Festival, her students wrote Chinese New Year greeting cards to Xi in Chinese, told him about their Chinese language studies and personal hobbies, and expressed their love for the Chinese culture, as well as their hope for a chance to visit China.

Everyone was flabbergasted when Xi wrote back.

"Dear Boys and Girls," he wrote to them. "I am so happy to get the lovely cards from you on the Chinese New Year. I have read them all. Thank you for the wonderful thought."

In his reply letter dated Feb. 15, Xi told the children that like the United States, China is a big country, that the Chinese civilization has a history of more than 5,000 years, and the Chinese people are as warm-hearted and friendly as the American people.

"I've been to the United States multiple times, but not yet to Utah. I hope there will be an opportunity for me to be there and, if so, to visit you all in person," the president said, adding that he is also fond of reading and sports.

His letter delighted the faculty, staff and students of the elementary school.

"It's an amazing thing for our students to get a personal letter from the president of China," Cascade Elemantary School Principal Darrin Johnson enthused. "President Xi said he hopes to visit us here one day, but we also hope to follow up with a visit of our students to China next year so they can see for themselves how interesting and beautiful China is."

"I think it's a great honor. The Chinese president is incredibly busy, running a country and dealing with the new coronavirus," added Johnson. He appreciated Xi for taking time out of his busy schedule to write to the students.

In his letter, Xi also praised the children for the fluency of their Chinese language skills and for being able to write Chinese characters so beautifully.

"By learning it, you may know more about Chinese history and culture," Xi noted. "I hope you will keep at it, make even bigger progress and become young 'ambassadors' for Sino-American friendship."

"I wish you all happiness, health and progress in the new year," Xi concluded his letter. "You're most welcome to visit China."

Utah is a sparsely-populated state in the western United States but surprisingly forward-looking on education. State lawmakers created 12 years ago a comprehensive language immersion program for Utah's entire public-school system featuring several languages, including Mandarin Chinese.

The program begins in first grade with 6-year-olds and carries on all the way through to the graduating high school seniors around 18 years old.

"They were ahead of their time," Principal Johnson said of Utah's public officials and school administrators. "And the immersion program is run in an exciting and fun way."

The learning program impacts all their courses. For half a day, every day, students are taught every subject in Mandarin -- science, math, social studies and so on, and then switch to English for the other half of the day.

Zheng keeps her students up to date on current events and the school recently posted a video on its Facebook page of the children singing a song that sends hope and well-wishes to the brave citizens of China's Wuhan city who are fighting the novel coronavirus.

"We love our Chinese immersion program. We are wishing the people of China our best. We hope that you are able to overcome the virus quickly," Cascade Elementary School wrote this week on the school's Facebook page.

Established in 1967, the public school is one of the first schools in Utah to offer a Chinese immersion program, which involves more than half of its students. In total, Utah now teaches one-fifth of all Chinese language learning public school students in the United States.

The state's Chinese immersion program began in 2009 and is now available in 76 elementary and secondary schools.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Zhao Tong, Bianji)

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