Written by Shirley Wu
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
Tzu Chi offers a Character Education program in a number of schools in the greater Dallas area, aiming to deliver a unique learning experience with compassion at its core. The program additionally helps young minds grow and flourish on their path of becoming impactful leaders for a global humanistic society. The Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy at A. Maceo Smith (BOMLA) in Dallas, Texas, has been sharing Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s Jing Si Aphorisms with its students since 2011.
After the fourth principal of the academy took office, he invited volunteers from Tzu Chi’s Central Region to the school, and together, they launched an online Character Education course on October 20th.
The Fourth Principal Of BOMLA
BOMLA has carried out bi-monthly Character Education courses for the past ten years, during which, volunteers discuss Jing Si Aphorisms and how they can lend wisdom and support in everyday life. After the school was selected as a National Blue Ribbon School, the Dallas area and neighboring schools began supporting the Character Education curriculum provided by Tzu Chi as well. At present, Dr. Barbara Jordan Elementary School and Charlie R. Lyles Middle School also offer Tzu Chi’s Character Education courses.
Tzu Chi is deeply grateful for the wonderful friendships formed with each of BOMLA’s principals over the years, and likewise looked forward to working alongside the school’s fourth principal, Rashad Jackson. Even before Principal Jackson became part of the BOMLA family, he had already come to know Tzu Chi and recognized the spirit of compassion in each of our missions.
Therefore, at the beginning of the new school year, Principal Jackson invited Yuanliang Ling, the Executive Director of Tzu Chi’s Central Region, to visit the school and discuss the details of the online Character Education course for faculty and staff.
When Executive Director Yuanliang Ling and Tzu Chi volunteer Mei Ling visited the school, Principal Jackson accompanied them, explaining in detail how the school had transformed its day-to-day operating methods in compliance with strict social distancing procedures, contact tracing, and other important preventative measures.
Teaching Methods During The Pandemic
Principal Jackson said that during the pandemic, 75% of the school’s students opted to participate remotely, and 25% of the students who enrolled in the school’s in-person classes were divided into groups.
Hand sanitizers are readily available at each entrance, and individuals are asked to clean their hands upon entry. The cafeteria is equipped with protective partitions at each table, and a sign on every other seat reminds students to maintain a safe distance.
During the ongoing pandemic, BOMLA has also changed its teaching methods. Teachers conduct courses concurrently online and on-site, with the school’s gymnasium also being used for coursework. Here, the desks additionally have transparent partitions and students must wear masks to help keep one another healthy. Protective masks in place, students use laptops and headphones to interact with their teacher at the back of the gym.
Redesigned Teaching Methods
Steven Rose, a Physical Education teacher, has been working at BOMLA since it was founded. He said that with Tzu Chi’s help, he’s witnessed how his students have developed emotionally. Now, with the unique stressors brought forth by the ongoing health crisis, the lasting support brought by Tzu Chi’s Character Education program may be particularly instrumental.
“In order to cooperate with online teaching, we have to plan physical education classes from scratch. This is a big challenge because most students attend classes at home and basically sit in chairs and do not exercise much,” Mr. Rose explained. “So we try our best to create more interactive sports courses and provide activities that are beneficial to students.”
Tzu Chi volunteers felt blessed to be able to begin the online Character Education courses with BOMLA, the virtual course serving as a means of overcoming the distance while uniting those who are passionate about teaching.
The First Online Training Session
The Character Education team from Tzu Chi’s Central Region completed their first online Character Education and teaching course on October 20th. Including Principal Jackson, a total of 34 faculty members from BOMLA logged on via ZOOM.
During the online instructions, Principal Jackson also spoke about the purpose of the online training sessions and their importance amidst the current crisis. “Due to the pandemic, online teaching is adopted, teachers and students don’t interact in person. Character Education and teaching are becoming more important when people are in a state of psychological depression. We should continue to review and re-learn. These lessons, too, even if the teachers are already familiar with them, because every time you review, you will learn something new.”
Volunteers explained that “Jing Si Aphorisms” are the words of wisdom delivered by Tzu Chi’s founder, the venerable Dharma Master Cheng Yen. Volunteers also outlined their process for teaching the Character Education courses. There are key questions presented to the students to contemplate, activities are designed around a Jing Si Aphorism, and posters are presented in Chinese, English, and Pinyin.
The Power Of the Spirit
Volunteer Phoebe Ko used the story of “The Three Little Pigs” as an example, first presenting the original story, and then one from the perspective of the Big Bad Wolf. Both stories would then be examined by the students around the theme of inclusiveness.
In the final summary, volunteers spoke about how everyone sees things from different perspectives and the importance of keeping an open mind. During group discussions, the teachers shared their personal teaching experiences and how the materials in the plan should be used in lessons. Another lesson on perspective involves a ball that appears to be a different color depending on which way it is held.
Teaching methods have changed due to the pandemic, and distancing oneself from their peers and teachers puts many young students under great emotional stress. However, Tzu Chi volunteers sincerely hope that in this difficult time, the care and spiritual support offered through these courses will empower students and educators alike on the path forward.