Uniting for a Special Holiday Distribution at Belle Haven Elementary School

Northwest  |  January 12, 2021
A Tzu Chi volunteer and a student named Hailey happily hold up a gift. Photo/Leslie Shieh

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.

A Tzu Chi volunteer gives students a humanities lecture via a past Tea Ceremony, encouraging students to make good wishes, speak kind words, and do good deeds. Photo/Leslie Shieh
In 2017, Tzu Chi volunteers help students redeem presents in the school’s gift shop. Photo/Kuoan Chiang

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.

Parents and students return to school for back-to-school orientation and to receive their learning kits. Photo/Leslie Shieh

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.

During the pandemic, students return to school once per month to receive the required texts from teachers. Photo/Leslie Shieh

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.

A Tzu Chi volunteer teaches Hailey how to write numbers the previous year. Photo/Leslie Shieh
Tomito receives stationery, books, and other learning materials from a teacher. Photo/Leslie Shieh
A Tzu Chi volunteer teaches Tomito about numbers the year prior. Photo/Leslie Shieh

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. 

A new and enthusiastic kindergarten teacher cheerfully greets volunteers. Photo/Leslie Shieh
Ms. Colder is another new kindergarten teacher at the school. Photo/Leslie Shieh

Providing Earphones to Learning Hubs

One of the learning hubs at Belle Haven Elementary School. Photo/Leslie Shieh

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.

At a learning hub, students wear headphones to ensure the sound from their respective tablets will not disturb the quiet space, and they can focus better as well. Photo/Leslie Shieh

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.

An assortment of gifts procured via fundraising. Photo/Leslie Shieh

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.

For the past 5-6 years, Ravenswood Education Foundation has been collecting presents for Ravenswood Education School District. This year, we have collected close to 2,000 gifts, of which, 500 are here at Belle Haven Elementary School. We are very glad to have Tzu Chi volunteers on site, vigorously helping in the distribution effort. Thank you very much for being such wonderful volunteers.

Carolyn Bowsher, Ravenswood Education Foundation Liaison
Having received learning kits from their teachers, students come to register with Carolyn to select a gift. Photo/Leslie Shieh

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.

A student contemplates which gift to take home. Photo/Leslie Shieh

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.

Fatima Velazquez was once a student at Belle Haven Elementary School, and today, more than ten years later, awaits a gift with her own daughter who is enrolled in kindergarten. Photo/Leslie Shieh

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.”

Volunteers are thankful to be able to bring joy during the holidays. Photo/Leslie Shieh

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.

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