Tzu Chi Restores Palo Alto Elementary School’s Attendance Ceremony

Northwest  |  March 30, 2024
The Silicon Valley volunteer team assisted Bellahaven Elementary School in the East Palo Alto School District to hold the Perfect Attendance Award Ceremony, which was a lively and warm scene.
The Silicon Valley volunteer team assisted Belle Haven Elementary School of the East Palo Alto School District in holding an Excellence Attendance Award ceremony, which was lively and heartwarming. Photo/Christina Chang

Written by Christina Chang
Translated by Christina Chang, Andrew Larracuente
Edited by Ariel Chan

On the evening of Wednesday, February 28, 2024, the Tzu Chi Northwest volunteer team in Northern California assisted Belle Haven Elementary School of the East Palo Alto School District in holding an Excellence Attendance Award ceremony. This event, restarting from a several-year hiatus due to the pandemic, honored 70 students who had excellent attendance. There were 216 family members of the participating students, all gathered to celebrate the wonderful results achieved through everyone’s efforts to attend school on time. Joyful laughter permeated the event, making it lively and heartwarming.

Restarting the Excellence Attendance Award

The Tzu Chi Northwest volunteer team formed the Happy Campus Team and began serving at Belle Haven Elementary School, which predominantly serves Spanish-speaking immigrant labor families, in 2009. Starting in 2015, they began assisting Belle Haven Elementary School in holding the Perfect Attendance Award ceremony. By presenting the Perfect Attendance Award, attendance rates increased significantly. The school’s attendance rate improved from ranking eighth in the district for the 2015 academic year to becoming the district champion in the 2019 academic year. This improvement not only enhanced students’ academic performance but also helped the school and district obtain more government resources to improve the overall learning environment.

Therefore, the Perfect Attendance Award planned by the Happy Campus Volunteer Team was expanded to be held jointly in all district schools at the invitation of the district until it was suspended in 2020 due to the pandemic. With the easing of the pandemic in 2024 and everyone returning to school in a safe and normal environment, Michelle Masuda, the current principal of Belle Haven Elementary School, immediately requested the assistance of Tzu Chi volunteers to restart the Excellence Attendance Award ceremony.

Bellahaven Primary School principal Michelle Masuda took the initiative to invite Tzu Chi volunteers to help restart the perfect attendance award ceremony.
Principal Michelle Masuda of Belle Haven Elementary School actively invited Tzu Chi volunteers to assist in restarting the Excellence Attendance Award ceremony. Photo/Christina Chang

The Excellence Attendance Award is a high recognition of the efforts made by students and parents every school morning. It is a commendation for their outstanding performance in valuing school education. Seeing everyone gathered here today warms my heart. We are lucky to be able to hold the ceremony in the middle school district, allowing residents of the community to see the new face of the middle school campus. Everyone participating in the event feels like we are completing an important task together as one community.

A Moment of Gratitude

Restarting the Perfect Attendance Award after the pandemic also included safety precautions, such as advising students or family members to stay at home if they have symptoms of illness. The criteria for receiving the award were relaxed to allow for up to three absences or tardiness during the attendance recording period, leading to the issuance of the Excellence Attendance Award. In order to appreciate the joint efforts of students and parents for excellent attendance, Tzu Chi volunteers made careful arrangements during the award ceremony.

Students first received flower gifts provided by Tzu Chi volunteers and presented them to their parents on stage, expressing gratitude for their support and companionship. The scene on stage was filled with hugs and tears of gratitude. Each student received 100 points for the Panther Paw Store, a student store provided by Tzu Chi volunteers. Many children were ecstatic when they received the redemption vouchers on stage. The principal then presented each award-winning student with a certificate bearing the student’s name. Students and their families held flowers, certificates, and prizes, happily posing for photos, leaving behind beautiful memories of the glory achieved through their collective efforts and perseverance.

The students who received the Excellence Attendance Award on stage presented freshly prepared flowers to their parents and family members, embracing each other, expressing their gratitude from the heart. Photo/Christina Chang, Munya Chu

Vice Principal Stuart Shirashi, observing each family smiling in front of the camera, particularly sensed the significant importance of the Excellence Attendance Award to Hispanic families. Given that many parents in the school district are blue-collar Hispanic workers, their daily struggle to make ends meet makes it challenging to ensure their children attend school on time every day. This perseverance is truly a daily display of resilience shared by families. Vice Principal Shirashi recounted the words of a student’s mother who attended the Excellence Attendance Award ceremony: “On this day of the ceremony, I needed to work, but I still took a day off because I didn’t want to look tired from a day of work, nor did I want to be late for the ceremony. I want to be there with my child to receive the Excellence Attendance Award on time. This is a highlight moment for our entire family, and we want to enjoy it together happily.”

Parents happily take photos with students or help them receive awards, leaving behind beautiful family memories. Photo/Christina Chang

The Happiness of the Whole Family

Maria Rivas, parent of second-grade student Emily Rivas, watched with joy as her daughter received the Excellence Attendance Award certificate. She said happily, “My daughter goes to school on time every day and receives the Excellence Attendance Award. I am really happy for her. Seeing my daughter present flowers of gratitude, I feel the love between us and am deeply moved.” Emily, holding her certificate, thanked her mother, saying, “I want to thank my mom for taking me to school every day so that I can enjoy learning happily at school every day.”

Maria, her two daughters, and their family held the certificates and happily took photos with Vice Principal Stuart.
Maria and her two daughters pose happily with certificates, taking a photo with Vice Principal Stuart Shirashi. Photo/Christina Chang
Laura and her daughter Ishara took photos happily holding flowers, certificates and prizes, with sweet smiles on their faces.
Laura and her daughter Isela hold flowers, certificates, and prizes, posing happily with sweet smiles on their faces. Photo/Christina Chang

Isala, a kindergarten student at Belle Haven Elementary School, delighted in expressing her joy to everyone with loving gestures when she received her award on stage. After coming off stage, she made a heart gesture with her hands to her mother, saying, “Mom, I love you. Thank you.”

I was looking forward to today's Excellence Attendance Award ceremony. I thought only my daughter would receive a certificate, but I didn't expect to receive flowers of gratitude. It was a complete surprise. I tried not to cry because I was so touched. I am really happy and proud of my daughter.

When second-grade student JoCarlo received a 100-point voucher for the Panther Paw Store, he was excited. His most anticipated moment at school was every Wednesday, when he could visit the student welfare store served by Tzu Chi volunteers and redeem items he wanted. With the gift voucher, he particularly wanted to share it with his younger sister, who had not yet started school: “I want to exchange for the pink hair accessory she wants, and then see if there are any items I want.” Standing behind the young parents, who listened to their children’s desire to share the joy they gained from the Happy Campus with their family, the smiles of the whole family never faded, and they would bring back this smile to the happy families in the East Palo Alto community.

A primary school student who got a 100-point gift coupon wanted to redeem a gift for his sister.
Having received 100-point gift vouchers, this elementary school child wanted to exchange gifts for his younger sister. Photo/Christina Chang

Volunteer's Contribution

The Tzu Chi Northwest volunteer team has been implementing the Happy Campus Program in the East Palo Alto Hispanic community for fifteen years as of 2024. Entering Belle Haven Elementary School to serve students and district families marks the beginning of the tenth year. Five years ago, it expanded its outreach to community care, assisting in the Food Bank distribution work for the East Palo Alto Community and further exploring the needs of local vulnerable community families, providing life necessities support. Although the epidemic has hindered actual contact between people, it has deepened the caring action of Tzu Chi Northwest volunteers, strengthened connections with the community, and the uninterrupted footsteps have let families, schools, and communities know that Tzu Chi has always been there. Therefore, when the school district and schools felt that the time was right to restart the Excellence Attendance Award, they immediately contacted Tzu Chi volunteers for assistance.

The Tzu Chi Northwest Happy Campus Volunteer Team assists in conducting the Excellence Attendance Award event and prepares a vegetarian Mexican dinner, provided to teachers, students, and parents, allowing community families to dine together before the ceremony. Photo/Christina Chang

Annabel, a high school student from the local community, joined the team of volunteer service for the Excellence Attendance Award ceremony. When she was attending Belle Haven Elementary School, she came into contact with Tzu Chi volunteers through the Asian Culture Program and Panther Paw Store. She had also received the Perfect Attendance Award before.

When I received the Perfect Attendance Award in elementary school, my name was written on the certificate. I remember getting up early every day just to be on time for school, so I could get this certificate.

Annabel comes from a Hispanic family, with parents raising five children solely on the income from her father’s job, which puts significant pressure on the family’s finances. She is a long-term care recipient of Tzu Chi volunteers. Two weeks before the winter distribution organized by Tzu Chi in 2022, the mother, who was only 35 years old, passed away suddenly due to a heart attack. The father, overwhelmed by severe psychological trauma and life stress, fell into depression. Tzu Chi volunteers provided timely care and life assistance to this family facing a tremendous change, helping the father and children gradually overcome their pain.

In 2023, Tzu Chi volunteers launched the “Youth Bright” program for high school students in the community care families. In addition to forming care groups composed of volunteers to strengthen interaction and care for teenagers’ lives and studies, while learning Tzu Chi values and concepts, they also led high school students to contribute their efforts, serving as volunteers in various community activities. Assisting in food bank distribution is just one example. From the “Youth Bright” program, Annabel and another high school student, Camilla, were invited to serve as volunteers at the Excellence Attendance Award ceremony.

Annabel (left) and Camilla (right) from the "Youth Bright" program serve as volunteers at the Excellence Attendance Award ceremony. Photo/Cindy Hung

Annabel, although a student in a special education class, may not keep up with the regular academic pace, but she is a friendly child. Especially, after participating in Tzu Chi’s “Youth Bright” program, she not only made more friends but also found joy in contributing. During the food bank distribution on Saturdays, when the Tzu Chi volunteer team arrived at the scene at 7:30 in the morning, they often saw Annabel and her father already waiting in the car. Her father, Francisco, always says, “We really enjoy coming to help at the food bank.”

As a volunteer at the Excellence Attendance Award ceremony this time, Annabel saw many young volunteers from the community, and with her usual shy smile on her face. She said, “Being a volunteer at today’s event and seeing the children receive the Excellence Attendance Award, I am truly happy for them, and this is also the reason why I am reminding myself to wake up early and be on time for school every day.”

With happiness overflowing and love shining, the Tzu Chi volunteer team restarted the Excellence Attendance Award ceremony. Families of the Silicon Valley Hispanic community happily showed each other gratitude and sent their beautiful blessings into the future.

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