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Tzu Chi Academy in New Jersey Adapts During the Pandemic

Mid-Atlantic  |  June 16, 2020
Tzu Chi Academy teachers discuss the preparation of classes on vegetarianism and environmental protection. Photo / Jason Chen

Written by Jenny Sun
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

There are many Chinese schools in New Jersey, so parents have a lot of choices. Most of those who send their children to Tzu Chi Academy do so because of the Jing Si Aphorism and character education curriculum that it offers.

Yet as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the country in February, Tzu Chi Academy introduced additional preventive health classes into their educational program. The courses taught proper handwashing, the use of masks, ways to discard masks, and the importance of covering one’s mouth when sneezing. 

At the same time, the staff began to prepare for online instruction. Therefore, when the state issued its stay-at-home order, Tzu Chi Academy could immediately switch students from onsite to online learning.

In addition to Chinese language instruction, the online curriculum encompasses humanistic culture courses. The teachers also took into consideration the source of COVID-19 and the issues surrounding it. 

Since the origin of the pandemic is most likely related to human consumption of meat, the industrial production of which is damaging to the environment, they undertook to raise student awareness by creating lessons on the benefits of vegetarianism and environmental protection. As a starting point, the classes they designed inspire students to love animals and favor a vegetarian diet. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an unprecedented challenge before us, which demands changes in humanity’s approach to animals and the environment. Adopting a vegetarian diet is an excellent place to start. Students are encouraged to eat more fruits and vegetables and to invite family members to as well. Parents are also encouraged to participate by sharing photos of vegetarian cooking.

Everyone then watched a video revealing how many animals in the world lose their lives because of humanity’s desire to eat meat. That led to a discussion about the damaging environmental impact of a carnivorous diet, and the need for us to care for all sentient beings with compassion. 

The teaching in a Jing Si Aphorism shows that vegetarianism is a form of self-discipline and compassion.” Photo / Jason Chen
The shocking number of animals that lose their lives per second worldwide due to humanity’s desire for meat startles students and parents. Photo / Jason Chen

Principal Nataly Chiu demonstrated how to make a healthy salad made of vegetables and fruits during an online cooking class, and also explained the nutritional value for each vegetable and fruit. While watching, the parents prepared all the ingredients, learning along with their children. Then, side-by-side, parents and students completed a delicious meal that, in addition to nutritious ingredients, also included love from the whole family. 

Principal Nataly Chiu demonstrates how to make a healthy salad full of vegetables and fruits during an online cooking class. Photo / Jason Chen
Parents prepare the ingredients and learn to make a vegetarian dish with their children. Photo / Jason Chen
Students are interested in participating in the online cooking classes and take every step seriously. Photo / Li Fang

The students were also encouraged to be grateful for the company of their parents during the pandemic. While they were working from home to provide for the family, everyone could be together even during work hours, which is a new state of affairs. 

This pandemic has made us rethink many aspects of our former way of life. While reducing in-person interactions with colleagues, neighbors, and the community at large, parents have gained more time with their children, and can even accompany them through exciting classes online. 

Maybe we can all embrace other lifestyle changes as well, such as simplifying our lives by reducing our materialistic desires, caring for the environment, and giving more love to sentient beings by adopting a vegetarian diet. And, the best part is, we can start one day at a time.

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