Written by: Shirley Wu
Translated by: H.B. Qin
Edited by: Maggie Morgan
Tzu Chi’s Central Region has strived to immerse their volunteers into every part of the community. The closer we can connect with local institutions, the more of an impact we can make. One relationship volunteers are passionate about deepening is with the public schools within the areas they serve. Tzu Chi’s teams are heavily involved with several schools and are dedicated to empowering students to reach their full potential.
A major part of forming these connections is fostering relationships with principals and administrators. On August 11, 2022, Dr. Michelle Neely, the principal of Katherine Johnson Technology Magnet Academy, invited volunteers of Tzu Chi Central Region to a staff day. She introduced the organization and shared Tzu Chi’s character education with teachers before the fall semester began.
A Meeting of Kindred Spirits
The Magnet Academy was named after mathematician Katherine Johnson, the first African-American woman to work at NASA. Katherine Johnson Academy’s mission is to cultivate good character in students and to learn from its namesake’s perseverance and resilience to push past all limits and unleash their potential. The overall message is incredibly intertwined with Tzu Chi’s own philosophy, and it complements the organization’s mission to spread compassion and love in every action we take.
In an interview with Tzu Chi, Principal Michelle Neely said, “If Ms. Katherine Johnson were still alive, she would also agree with Tzu Chi’s philosophy, because she believed that she could make an impact on society, and that’s why she spent her life working to improve the lives of people; she also believed that so long as one is bold enough to step forward, one could change the world.”
At the beginning of the event, Principal Neely shared her personal connection with Tzu Chi with teachers.
Tzu Chi Central Region’s Executive Director Yuanliang Ling shares how she met Principal Neely, “It’s been eleven years since I met Principal Neely at Obama High School in 2011, and we are like family. Three years ago, she went to Tzu Chi’s Jing Si House in Hualien, Taiwan with us to visit the Master, and converted to the Master.”
“Meatless Monday" Hits the Menu
During the event, volunteers from Tzu Chi Central Region briefly introduced the origins of Tzu Chi and the history of local emergency relief in Dallas. In particular, they detailed Tzu Chi’s Education Mission and Tzu Chi’s character education, emphasizing “interactive teaching” where students can apply what they learn in the classroom to their everyday lives.
The volunteers demonstrated the teaching of Jing Si Aphorism on the theme of “giving” so staff could see parts of the programming in action. The Aphorism chosen for the session was: “With a good intention, there will be a good connection; With a kind word, there will be a joyful mood.”
After the meeting, the volunteers prepared a vegetarian lunch to share with the staff, promoting a healthy and environmentally- friendly diet. Principal Neely highlighted the benefits of a vegetarian diet and how it could be incorporated into the school. The faculty happily accepted the “Meatless Monday” proposal, which will provide a plant-based lunch for all students and staff every week.
Tzu Chi volunteer Shijie Cheng was very moved by this, saying, “Now that we see the first success in vegetarianism promotion at schools, with vegetarian meals every Monday. It’s a great success for us to go into their campus today and promote the Character Education initiative. We just sow the seed and they will sprout and grow on their own.”
An Educational Philosophy for All
The staff at Katherine Johnson Academy were thankful and receptive to Tzu Chi’s programming and initiatives. Principal Neely’s decision to bring in the charitable organization was not only highly favored by faculty members but was a breath of fresh air. Teachers commented that Tzu Chi’s education methods are amazing, and an effective way to instruct students.
Instead of simply instilling young learners with the knowledge, immersive coursework encourages them to visualize the lesson. Students are better able to put new principles into practical action when they learn from a new point of view. Giving kids the resources to combine academics with real-world scenarios helps them retain the material and find a deeper meaning.
Malika Shelvin, a first-year teacher, shared, “I enjoy applying Tzu Chi’s character education in my classroom, using it as a way to convert character education into physical actions and help students build good habits.”
Jamal Rasheed was very emotional after the class, saying that Tzu Chi reminded him of his own aspiration in becoming a teacher and gave him the confidence to be a teacher, because education is not just the responsibility of teachers or parents, but of everyone in the world.
Tzu Chi Central Region’s team has been committed to promoting character education in new school districts, and Katherine Johnson Academy is the latest milestone of the large-scale effort. “Ten years to nurture a tree, a hundred years to nurture characters.”
Education is a lifelong journey, and it takes a considerable amount of care and attention to plant the seeds of goodness in a child’s heart. With the help of teachers and parents, seeds will eventually grow into seedlings, and when the time is right, they will become trees that give life to everyone around them. Knowledge without heart behind it is a waste, and a strong foundation of compassion is required to reach one’s full potential. Though the methods may not be traditional, they are important. And though Tzu Chi is stepping outside the norm, they’re bringing humanity back into education. When we know more, we can do more. When we are good, we can do good.
These students will become exponentially better people as they grow, all because of one little lesson, all because of one larger sense of love. As they age and bring these foundational experiences into their future education, they’ll only continue to blossom into the kind of people who can change the world.
As Toni Morrison once said, ““I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else.”