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#LovingChinatown: Nueva Mandarin Students Reach Out To Lonely Asian Seniors
Judith Worrall, middle school writing teacher & communications team member

When Nueva Mandarin teachers Weixia Han, Ting Zhang, Min Larson and Jamie Gao learned about food relief organization Heart of Dinner, they immediately knew they wanted their students to get involved with the initiative. Heart of Dinner was founded at the beginning of the COVID pandemic in the United States in response to the rise of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia toward Asian Americans by business and life partners Yin Chang and Moonlynn Tsai. The organization provides hundreds of meals and care packages each week to elderly homes within Asian immigrant communities across New York City. The most joyful parts of each care package are heartwarming letters written by people from all over the world. These letters truly put the heart into Heart of Dinner. 

Weixia, Ting, Min, and Jamie thought the letter-writing campaign was the perfect way for Nueva to get involved. To learn about the organization and initiative (named #LovingChinatown), students also planned and delivered mini-lessons for their classmates, and they introduced Heart of Dinner and their initiative to their families and friends in Mandarin.

“It is inspiring to know that our students are using the practical skills they have learned in Mandarin, as well as their empathy and compassion from SEL, to make a real world difference,” said Zac Carr, assistant middle school head. “It is also great to see them support such a wonderful organization—and help their families to know about it too!”

Seventh-grader Grace E. found this project to be quite impactful, not only in writing the letters but also in learning about the initiative’s founders.

 “It is really interesting to learn about two people who are helping others affected by the coronavirus,” she said “And it is really cool to be able to help them too!”

Seventh-grader Pearl Y.-L. shared similar sentiments to Grace’s. She has been touched by the impact the organization is having on its recipients.

“Not only does Heart of Dinner send free meals, they also send letters (爱心信) expressing love and care to those living in New York’s Chinatown who were greatly affected by the pandemic in each delivery,” she explained. “People from all over the country have been sending letters for Heart of Dinner to send to Asian-Americans over-65s, including our class.”

The project embodied so much of what a Nueva education is about: students were engaged in an independent, authentic, and detailed process to learn about and respond to Heart of Dinner. They brainstormed ideas, practiced their artwork and calligraphy, and finally created beautiful handwritten notes in Chinese to express their love and care to the seniors.

Min, who teaches in the upper school, said of the cards, “My Chinese 3 and Chinese 4 students wrote cards and, my plan is to collect all the cards from the upper and middle school Mandarin students to send to New York to help with this outreach.”

Min translated some of the messages her students wrote: 

  • I’m a high school student from California and I wish you and family health. 
  • We are thinking about you. 
  • We wish you a happy Chinese New Year when it comes. 
  • We wish you to eat healthy this season. 
  • We love you!

This project has left an indelible mark on Nueva students.

“I was really moved by everyone’s heartfelt letters and that we are all doing this for people who don’t leave their homes,” seventh-grader Ethan H. shared.

Seventh-grader Alicia C. said, “Throughout all of this, we have been improving our Chinese, learning new vocabulary words and sentence structures, and writing new Chinese characters. We have also learned more about Chinatown and aspects of Chinese culture.”

“It has been wonderful to see students at all levels use their Mandarin skills to help the Chinese American seniors and with so much love and care,” added Weixia, who teaches in the middle school

“I'm sure all my classmates will agree with me,” Alicia added, “when I say that I feel proud to be using what I've learned to help others and make an impact by sending loving messages. That, I think, is one of the best parts of what we are doing.” 

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