Students at Tzu Chi schools and academies across the United States strive for scholastic excellence yet also aim to be a light in the world, of benefit to others. Photo/Jack Chen
By Jennifer Chien | Translated by Diana Chang | Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
Tzu Chi’s educational mission is to advance a global humanistic culture, which it does through schools (operated by the Buddhist Tzu Chi Education Foundation) and programs (by Tzu Chi USA’s Education Department) that balance developing the mind and opening the heart. They comprise Great Love Preschools, of which there are currently four – two in California and two in Texas – and Tzu Chi Elementary School in Walnut. Each offers a holistic curriculum that supports spiritual, intellectual, physical, social, and creative development while cultivating integrity and social responsibility.
Concurrently, Tzu Chi Academies, which are weekend programs operated by Tzu Chi USA’s Education Department, focus on teaching the Chinese language and culture and the practice of joyous giving through sincere compassion. The first Tzu Chi Academy was established in Los Angeles in 1994, and today, there are 25 across 14 states, with nine in California alone.
The Buddhist Tzu Chi Education Foundation also created a Character Education Program that has been reaching students in elementary and middle schools throughout the United States since 2006. The Foundation additionally offers seasonal camps that aim to enhance children’s interpersonal skills while helping them build good character, develop self-esteem, and acquire self-management skills for life.
Celebrating the Fruits of Excellence
This year, 2021, brought honors to two Tzu Chi educational institutions in California – Tzu Chi Academy Tri-Valley in San Ramon, and Tzu Chi Elementary School and Preschool in Walnut – through accreditation from the Accrediting Commission for Schools of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC).
According to Elizabeth Oberreiter, Senior Director at ACS WASC, the accreditation represents a third party evaluating and validating the school’s complete educational system. “It’s an outside set of eyes looking at the program. And WASC looks at everything in order to validate the program.”
In February, ACS WASC accredited Tzu Chi Academy Tri-Valley in San Ramon, as meeting their Supplementary Education Center/ Program criteria for Language. Tri-Valley is the first WASC accredited Academy in the Bay Area, while being the newest, celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2021. The Academy is also a member of the Association of Northern California Chinese Schools (ANCCS) and is the only ANCCS school to now be WASC accredited.
The Path to and Rewards of WASC Accreditation
WASC is one of the six regional accrediting commissions in the United States approved by the U.S. Department of Education. For Jack Chen, Principal of Tzu Chi Academy Tri-Valley, one of the most significant advantages of WASC accreditation is that other schools now recognize the Academy’s credits in Chinese Language instruction.
And, this was the plan all along, Chen shared. Before establishing the Tzu Chi Academy Tri-Valley the planning team made high school credited classes a goal and directed teaching standards and operations to meet WASC accreditation standards. Chen then added, “what was most touching was that when we proposed to get WASC, an application process that takes a large group of people, in fact, the whole Academy, including teachers, students, volunteers, and parents, were ready to participate and support the application.” Their dedication and spirit paid off: Mission accomplished.
In June, five months later, Charles Crane, Principal of Tzu Chi Elementary School and Preschool in Walnut, also learned that this institution had received WASC accreditation. It was a milestone, indeed. Buddhist Tzu Chi Education Foundation head Debbie Lee remembers the path to reaching it well. The Foundation established it first preschool in 2006, which led to the other three and then an elementary school in 2010, yet a level of public recognition felt missin.
That kind of recognition of excellence is what this WASC accreditation brings.
The accreditation process can be challenging, yet Lee and the whole Tzu Chi Education Foundation team were positive and determined, with their far-reaching goals in mind.
Oberreiter acknowledges that the accreditation process can be stressful for a school, but sees beyond that, saying that “the beautiful thing about it is that a school is able to tell their story and look at the importance of continuous improvement, and that’s what WASC is all about. WASC is all about, ‘how do we improve that academic journey for the students and their future years?’”
In the final analysis, ACS WASC was impressed, as Lee recounts: “WASC has definitely given us a lot of positive recognition during the evaluation process and we’re very blessed.
From interviewing the parents, staff, and students, they felt that Tzu Chi School is different from other private schools. Our members are like family and feel safe, comfortable, and happy in this environment. They also felt that Tzu Chi’s curriculum was very diverse, not only in academics, but also in bilingualism and environmental science, which the judges felt was very unique.”
Oberreiter kindly shared some of her observations, and what impressed her the most about Tzu Chi Elementary School and Preschool in Walnut:
The Future Looks Bright
Debbie Lee and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Education Foundation are thrilled about this milestone and what it represents. As the only WASC accredited Tzu Chi school to date, Tzu Chi Elementary School and Preschool in Walnut can be used as a benchmark and training ground for other Tzu Chi schools, thus benefiting them al