Written by Hazel Kuang
Translated by Haibiao Qin
Edited by Andrea Barkley
Under the radiant sun, accompanied by warm welcome songs, 81 teachers, students, and parents from Fred Ekstrand Elementary School in San Dimas, California, arrived at the Tzu Chi Education Campus in Walnut on the morning of April 27, 2023, for its one-day Earth Environmental Protection Day Camp.
The staff and volunteers enthusiastically greeted them at the entrance with heartfelt songs. Immediately afterward, during the opening ceremony, they presented “Bodhi” (meaning awakening or enlightenment in Sanskrit) caps to the children to foster good karma while helping fend off the sun. They hoped the students would become a new force on the journey to environmental protection.
Learning to Recycle and Reduce Waste
Fred Ekstrand Elementary School and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Education Foundation have nurtured a long-standing partnership in their shared mission of education. The school has diligently incorporated Tzu Chi’s humanistic character education into its classrooms. At the same time, the Tzu Chi Education Campus in Walnut warmly welcomed the school’s second-graders on Earth Day for a meaningful Earth Environmental Protection Day Camp.
As the temperature steadily rose, students wholeheartedly engaged in environmental learning within tents and designated seating areas prepared by volunteers and staff. At the recycling teaching station, students learned to identify various recyclable items and, through group games, actively sorted resources together.
A volunteer teacher demonstrated how to easily make recycled paper at home using everyday items. Volunteers also enlightened the students about Tzu Chi’s DAAI technology and recycling processes, showcasing various products crafted from recycled plastic bottles and providing samples to observe.
Learning Water Conservation and More
At the reduction learning station, volunteer teachers focused on educating students about water conservation. They encouraged reflection on daily water habits and prompted students to consider ways they could save water. Although the recent rainy season in Southern California alleviated the three-year-long drought, water conservation remains crucial in the face of climate change.
During the team game there, students engaged in different water usage scenarios to understand the impact of their behaviors on water resources. For instance, they learned that using an automatic shut-off sprinkler or a rubber hose without a sprinkler significantly reduces water consumption when watering the lawn.
At the third teaching station, students explored the concept of reuse. They discovered how reusing old objects gives them a new life, reduces waste, and lessens the burden on landfills. This station was in the Life Science Garden at Tzu Chi Education Campus in Walnut, an ecological farm that allows students to translate their knowledge into action within a lush green environment.
Classroom activities focused on utilizing recycled newspapers, plastic bottles, and other materials to create small flower pots for cultivating plant seedlings. Each student learned to fill the pots with soil and sow seeds, promoting the application of recycling behaviors through hands-on experience.
Enthusiasm From Both Teachers and Students
Marissa Ford, a teacher at Fred Ekstrand Elementary School, has led her students to participate in one-day camps at the Tzu Chi Education Campus in Walnut for eight consecutive years. She highly values the environmentalist perspective conveyed through the instructional videos on waste reduction. Marissa even suggested abstaining from adding water to the potted plants, demonstrating her dedication and concern for every aspect of the courses. She expressed, “This activity holds great significance. Students learn various ways to protect the environment and cherish the Earth through videos, hands-on activities, and more. They can implement these lessons at home and share them with their families.”
Despite the hot weather, the students’ enthusiasm remained unwavering. Under the sun, they eagerly applied the recycling and sorting knowledge they acquired at the recycling teaching station, promptly placing various items in their designated locations. Likewise, students wholeheartedly engaged in a simulation game focused on water conservation at the reduction teaching station. Many students were particularly impressed by the activity involving crafting seedling pots using recycled newspapers.
One student, Nina Falminio, thoroughly enjoyed making flower pots and shared, “It was fun. I planted seeds with my classmates. I also learned about recycling, reusing, and reducing. It was all enjoyable, and I liked it very much.” Similarly, student Presley Carrillo appreciated using newspapers as flower pots to assist with planting.
Extending a Wholehearted Welcome
Parent Tony Gentle visited the Tzu Chi Education Campus in Walnut and gained insights into environmental protection related to Earth Day. He shared, “Through several teaching stations, I can see that the children have learned a lot, and the curriculum is very intensive. It lets them think and understand the significance of Earth Day, including understanding that water resources are difficult to obtain in some countries. We should cherish water resources and turn off the tap. We also plant potted plants together and learn about the types of garbage that pollute the environment. The whole experience was very good. We have also learned a lot. The experience of the past few hours has been very enjoyable.”
Teachers, students, and parents gathered to savor the vegetarian meal at lunchtime. The delicious food motivated students to finish their plates, and volunteers took the opportunity to educate them about food waste recycling and the value of cherishing food and blessings. Gerard Granade, the principal of Fred Ekstrand Elementary School, delivered a lunch speech inviting students to cheer and express gratitude to the Buddhist Tzu Chi Education Foundation for organizing an engaging, informative, fun-filled, and knowledge-rich day camp.
During the closing ceremony, Debbie Lee, CEO of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Education Foundation, presented gifts to the teachers and parents. The interactions and exchanges among parents, teachers, and children received high praise for Tzu Chi’s hospitality and the quality of teaching. These warm words of appreciation and the active participation of students in learning environmental protection behaviors served as the most meaningful gift for the event organizers.