Written by Christina Chang
Translated by Mark Wan
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
Under the August sun on a Saturday morning, students from Tzu Chi Academy in Cupertino, California, sat on the verdant lawn, accompanied by teachers and volunteers who stood against the azure backdrop of the sky. Together, they sang along to the piece, “The Happy Face,” their boundless joy clear even behind protective face coverings.
Tzu Chi Academy in Cupertino, California, held its first Back-To-School meeting on the morning of August 21, 2021, after over one year of remote learning. It was the first time that the staff and student body physically met again, and everyone cherished the moment.
Principal Joli Liu’s child had attended the school since preschool in 2004. And from loving mother, volunteer, vice-principal, and finally, to her current position as the school’s principal, Joli Liu has indeed become an increasingly vital part of school life throughout the years. When speaking about organizing the meeting, Joli reflected on the complicated feelings she knew were deeply held within the hearts of all. “There are two sides to the event,” said Principal Liu. “Returning to campus to meet you all is such a joy, while all the careful prevention measures taken to maintain a safe gathering can be quite the task.” Ensuring all of the precautions were strictly upheld, however, was made far less daunting by the care with which everyone took in carrying them out. With the concerted efforts of teachers, students, parents, and volunteers, all of the preparations were completed with relative ease, such as wearing face masks, using hand sanitizer, and other crucial safety measures.
Graduates Give Back
Starting preschool at Tzu Chi Academy and taking part in the offered Chinese language classes was the first step in Cynthia Lan’s educational journey. Even after graduating and entering the eleventh grade in high school, she still returns to her elementary school regularly as a volunteer, hoping to give back and help make other students’ experiences as special as her own.
While she was a student at Tzu Chi Academy, Cynthia Lan achieved excellent marks in Chinese language and humanistic culture courses, ultimately earning the highest grade on the AP Chinese examination. She also learned how to apply humanistic ethics and habits in daily life.
Upon returning to school as a volunteer, Cynthia shared her experiences:
“For the past 12 years, I have been helped by teachers and volunteers, whom I forever appreciate,” Cynthia expressed. “That is why I come back here to help out as a volunteer, myself, as a way to pay my debt of gratitude.”
The mission of Tzu Chi Academy revolves around compassion-centered teaching strategies that develop the mind and open the heart, and advance a global humanistic culture. Therefore, Cynthia’s dedication as a volunteer is just as moving to teachers, faculty, and staff as her appreciation for the caring educational environment that Tzu Chi Academy offers.
Three Generations Join Together
Wendy Chang immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan 30 years ago. At the school’s opening events, Wendy was joined by her husband, their daughter, and their son-in-law, both of whom work in Silicon Valley. They were enrolling three children in the school and a course on Bopomofo (Mandarin Phonetic Symbols). According to Wendy Chang, her two daughters hadn’t actively participated in Chinese language studies while growing up in the Bay Area, and when one of her daughters became a doctor, she encountered challenges communicating with her Chinese-speaking patients. Both regretted in their own ways not having pursued the language courses, and therefore, Wendy’s daughter was determined to give her children the experience she wished she had pursued earlier. Smiling, she told her children, “Your grandma’s now wised up, knowing full well the importance of learning Chinese. Actually, it is much slower and harder to learn Chinese at an older age, whereas it is much easier to learn while you’re still young.” Wendy’s grandkids agreed with these sentiments, and members of three generations sat in a circle to investigate what the Mandarin Phonetic Symbols meant together.
Carol Hsia’s daughter and son-in-law also grew up with few educational experiences that incorporated the Chinese language and culture. As a means of introducing her granddaughter to an inclusive multicultural environment, Carol suggested three years ago that she visit Tzu Chi Academy. She started with the Bopomofo class to learn about both the language and its intertwining humanities topics. “I am very appreciative of the humanities lessons provided by Tzu Chi,” Carol said, accompanying her daughter and granddaughter in their return to the school campus.
Teachers and Students Share the Joyful Energy
Chen-ling Chiang is currently a tutor for 9th-grade students. Her excitement was evident at the school’s opening event as she presented students with gifts she’d hoped to give them the year prior. “We met like old pals, including teachers, and there’s a special ambiance for the actual school opening at which people can directly interact,” she said. The 9th-grade class meeting was full of warmth and enthusiastic conversation.
Yu Chia Wang joined Tzu Chi Academy one year ago as a Bopomofo instructor, and due to the pandemic, only virtual courses could be carried out. At the 2021 school reopening, Yu Chia Wang was seen pushing a large red wheelbarrow full of visual aids, hula hoops, sandbags, storybooks, and stickers, to provide students with a natural, relaxed, yet engaging atmosphere in which they could learn.
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