Written by Leslie Shieh
Translated by Mark Wan
Edited by Diana Chang, Adriana DiBenedetto
Supporting a Happy Campus Together
Belle Haven Elementary School is located in Menlo Park, a city in Northern California and a gateway to Silicon Valley. Despite the near proximity to the flourishing high-tech giants, however, income disparities are quite stark, and this economic inequality creates multiple barriers for families working hard to make ends meet.
In 2014, Tzu Chi volunteers initiated the Happy Campus Program at Belle Haven Elementary School. In addition to teaching the kindergarten class a humanities course every Wednesday and committing oneself to serve as a positive role model, Tzu Chi volunteers also operated a gift shop known as the “Tiger Paw Store.” The store is one way to help motivate students, giving them several milestones to work toward, like regularly showing kindhearted and courteous behavior, having good attendance, and handing in one’s homework on time.
Students who achieve full attendance, for example, would then be awarded points to be saved up and redeemed via an award of their choosing at the store. When volunteers first began visiting the school, the attendance rate had ranked last in the school district, but once the Happy Campus Program was set in motion, the numbers began to climb steadily. In 2019, the school had soared to first place for attendance in the entire school district. Both teachers and students were extremely pleased with the project and the atmosphere it nurtured. When the pandemic began and schools shifted to remote learning methods, Tzu Chi’s Happy Campus Program also had to be put on pause. After eight months, however, everyone was glad to see Tzu Chi volunteers back on campus.
Upon returning to school, students first received stationery, books, and additional learning materials. Teachers also kindly prepared containers for carrying the assorted items with ease.
Tzu Chi volunteers were grateful to reunite with two students they’d previously taught in transitional kindergarten — Hailey and Tomito — both of whom are now in kindergarten. They were excited to show volunteers how much taller they’d gotten.
Providing Earphones to Learning Hubs
Some students at Belle Haven Elementary School come to the school’s Learning Hubs to engage in remote learning if they’re unable to do so from home.
“They stayed at Learning Hubs either due to online resources falling short at home or because both parents were essential workers,” explained Michelle Masuda, the school’s president. “Therefore, they needed a place for the education the school provided.”
Established during the pandemic to assist families, the Learning Hubs were commonly located in a public space, either inside the school itself or directly within the community — such as at libraries and community service centers. Although there were no teachers in the immediate location, there is always an adult to accompany students during these virtual lessons.
Although the school makes sure there are enough online resources, the various sounds from students’ tablets at the learning hubs had the potential to be distracting for other students. This also interfered with online Q & A sessions. To promote the effectiveness of the virtual courses, Tzu Chi donated 100 pairs of circumaural headsets to help manage the background noise level.
Belle Haven Elementary School belongs to the Ravenswood City School District, which holds an annual toy drive encouraging the donation of presents for the students in the district. The event also offers many children the only opportunity to receive a gift each year. Entrusted with managing the toy drive’s collection and distribution, Ravenswood Education Foundation, along with the school district, invited Tzu Chi to assist in the distribution of gifts at Belle Haven Elementary School.
Tzu Chi’s Gift Distribution
Due to the ongoing pandemic, 40 Tzu Chi volunteers utilized a staggered approach to assist in the gift distribution. Carolyn Bowsher, the liaison for the Ravenswood Education Foundation, was responsible for this year’s gift distribution at Belle Haven Elementary School. Tzu Chi volunteers were delighted to work with Carolyn for the first time ever, and together, they completed a variety of tasks with great rapport — like setting up gift booths and accompanying students as they selected presents.
Carolyn Bowsher is also a volunteer at Belle Haven Elementary School and has tutored students to help promote their reading skills. After receiving the learning kits from teachers, students came to register with Carolyn for their gift. As soon as she spotted a familiar face, she happily greeted students by their names, and Tzu Chi volunteers accompanied students as they each selected their gift.
With so many gifts before them, students had a hard time deciding which one they’d be leaving with. Each student knew they could only select one, so they put a great deal of consideration into the process. Once they settled on their Christmas present, a Tzu Chi volunteer applauded their decision, and then guided students to select a blanket — which were prepared in a variety of colors — before wrapping up the back-to-school day. Volunteers waved their fond farewells as students joyfully presented the gifts to their parents.
A parent named Fatima Velazquez was once a student at Belle Haven Elementary School as well. Here, she too had picked out a gift each Christmas as a youngster. Now, more than 10 years later, she holds her daughter’s hand as they enter the familiar location. Her daughter is enrolled in kindergarten at the school.
“While I was here, the school also had gift collection and distribution each year,” said Fatima with affection. “Usually, what I chose was either a jacket or a toy. And I am pleasantly surprised that, for all these years, the school still keeps up with this tradition, which also enables my own child to get her own gift. I loved the school from the get-go because it always meticulously takes care of students’ needs.”
So many parents, students, teachers, staff, community members, and beyond, carry a great love for Belle Haven Elementary School, and Tzu Chi volunteers are indeed among those who hold the school within their hearts.