Written by Sunny Chen, Jennifer Chien
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
In January of 2021, the Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association in Atlanta proposed the idea of tutoring students through a free weekly online program during their monthly meeting. The one-on-one math, English, natural science, and Chinese language courses would be offered to Tzu Chi Academy students, Tzu Chi care recipients, and family members of Tzu Chi volunteers.
Caring For The Community During The Pandemic
The continued spread of COVID-19 remains a global challenge, and many daily routines have undergone shifts to adapt to these hurdles. Members of the Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association, too, studied remotely, and during this time, campus activities were put on pause to uphold social distancing procedures.
Sunny Chen, the Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association’s president in Atlanta, studies at Georgia State University. She recalled participating in Tzu Chi’s global Youth Training Camp in July of 2020, where the venerable Dharma Master Cheng Yen inspired attendees to ponder the question, “How do we contribute to the world, society, and people; how do we care for society?” This is what young people need for the future, said Dharma Master Cheng Yen.
Sunny Chen shared Master Cheng Yen’s teachings and how they reminded her that there is always a way. Even during the pandemic, the Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association can still do good for others, but their previous approach to volunteering needed some adjustments.
At the Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association’s Annual Global Conference in December of 2020, Atlanta’s Youth Association members participated in online discussions with more individuals from other regions and countries to brainstorm ways of continuing to serve during the pandemic. Among them, a virtual tutoring program piqued Sunny’s interest. Sunny’s major is early childhood development in education, and she has always hoped to help students in need of support through this major.
Serving The Community Through Online Networking
And thus, at their monthly meeting with all of Atlanta’s Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association members in January of 2021, Sunny Chen introduced the weekly online tutoring program. Sharing her wish to help other students studying from home, the program was unanimously approved. An online meeting was also held, allowing parents, students, and the Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association, to further exchange thoughts and ideas. This program is the first step in the Youth Association’s service to the community through an online method. It not only provides tutoring for school-age children, but love and care during difficult times, and perhaps even the inspiration to pass on that kindness to others.
“My field of study is education, and I have observed a big gap between students in elementary schools,” Sunny Chen explained. She said that while some students can receive help from their parents or tutors hired by their parents, that’s simply not the case for all. “In the United States, it’s not that simple to set up an online tutoring program, so I first discussed the program with our mentor, Annie Sun, about planning the recruitment, volunteer training, and school resources.”
The school responded that they are generally more prepared to accept in-school “face-to-face” and after-school tutoring. Online tutoring outside the school requires the school to provide student contact information. Therefore, the school usually does not support this type of collaboration. When planning this project, Sunny Chen was participating in an internship at a local public elementary school, and also asked the school about its willingness to collaborate, but the school declined the proposal.
The recruitment of students was quite a challenge initially, and Sunny once again sought advice from Annie. She suggested starting with students from Tzu Chi Academy, the families of Tzu Chi Atlanta’s care recipients, and volunteer families. In order to get the word out, Sunny made posters and application forms in both Chinese and English to better understand the students’ background and needs.
Recruiting The First Group Of Students
News about the weekly tutoring program was sent to the parents of students from Tzu Chi Academy. At the same time, Tzu Chi USA’s Atlanta branch also sent the news to the households of care recipients, and to Tzu Chi volunteers. Soon, the first group of seven students who signed up for online tutoring was set. While tutoring sessions for mathematics, English, natural science, and Chinese were offered, students need only select one or two areas of study.
In order to ensure a high-quality experience, the weekly online tutoring is set up as a one-on-one approach, and every Zoom course is recorded. Due to possible concerns regarding students’ privacy, the Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association took time to explain how the recording is used to improve teaching methods, and all parents expressed their understanding through a signed media consent form.
Thanks to help from Annie Sun and Charlie Sun, two Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association mentors, the online tutoring program is progressing smoothly, and Sunny Chen was confirmed to take on the planning and general coordination for the program. This includes but is not limited to setting up the program with training for the volunteers, communicating with parents, promoting associated projects, and organizing activities. After the program was launched, Sunny was also responsible for reviewing the recordings and giving feedback to every Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association tutor.
Members from Atlanta’s Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association had also planned their own meeting online wherein everyone played their part to ensure the program ran as smoothly as possible. Zhouxin Zuo was responsible for setting up the first online meeting and assisted in matching volunteers and students; Phyllis Guo was responsible for producing the slides; Anting Chen created the survey forms, and all tutors wrote up an introduction with an accompanying profile photo. Sunny Chen additionally created a parent group chat on a communication platform for parents to send and receive messages regarding the program.
The online tutoring courses are in full swing, and although the pandemic has impacted so many aspects of daily life, it has not hindered the passion to serve that’s upheld by each member of Tzu Chi’s Collegiate Youth Association.