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Dandelion School Transformation Project

Located in a heavily polluted industrial area on the outskirts of Beijing, the Dandelion Middle School is the only non-profit organization in the city that now serves the needs of 620 children of poor migrant workers coming from 24 provinces. Having tripled both its student population and programs since its establishment in 2005, the Dandelion School is dedicated to provide quality education to the most disfranchised community in this vast city.

In 2009, Dandelion School has won two prestigious awards: “Model Project” from One Foundation and “Outstanding Non-Governmental Middle School” from China Teachers Development Foundation.

The mastermind behind this innovative and inspiring school is Zheng Hong 鄭洪., a passionate educator with the determination to create a school that nurtures the whole child, his/her academic accomplishment, social skills, and character.

How unusual to have a school to have these mottos on its walls!

  • “自信,乐群,求真,创造。Self-Confidence, Enjoying Community Life, Seeking Truth, and Creativity.”
  • “爱满天下, Let the heaven and earth be filled with love.”
  • “千教万教教人求真,千学万学学做真人。Teach one thousand or ten thousand times; teach students to seek truth. Study one thousand or ten thousand times; learn to become a truthful and authentivc person.”

What an exciting school that dares to embrace the challenge of not only teaching  academic skills to the ill-prepared youth but also encouraging them to seek truth and authenticity! How rare to find a school that expects excellence in its performance in education while putting the heart at the center of its operations!

Invited by Principal Zheng Hong 鄭洪 in 2005, Lily Yeh of Barefoot Artists inaugurated the Dandelion School Transformation Project which aimed to transform the school environment and as well the emotional state and mind set of the school community.

From 2005 – 2010, Yeh engaged the entire school, from teachers, students, staff members to volunteers, in a co-creative process to convert a dilapidated and sterile campus into a place filled with color, buoyance and joy through mural painting, mosaic making, and the reshaping of the campus environment.

While carrying out major public art projects on campus, Lily Yeh launched a series of innovative and transdisciplinary educational programs that imparted knowledge and encouraged creativity, team collaboration, hands-on exploration, and public presentation skills.

The statement from Principal Zheng Hong 鄭洪 in 2010 at the conclusion of the project reflects its impact.

“During these five years, Professor Yeh walked into the hearts of the Dandelion migrant students who were struggling to grow up amidst the ever challenging situation they found themselves in.  She understood and thoroughly respected the enormous potential contained within each one of our student. We affectionately call our students little dandelions, who are drifting in the turbulent wind of our time. . . Using art, Yeh comforted and healed the deep wounds hidden in the youngsters. Through bright and alluring colors, she awakened students’ curiosity and encouraged them to imagine and create with abandon.  The depth of meaning and innovation in her programs provided nourishment for our students and aspirations for our school.”

Zheng Hong 鄭洪 summarized:

  • Lily Yeh clearly expressed her intention in promoting social justice by choosing to work in and with our neglected migrant community.
  • Her innovative program “Mapping one’s personal journey” provided a platform through which students could tell their stories through visual images and words. The act of remembering and honoring their experiences helped students to heal and gain confidence.
  • Her understanding of anchoring the whole art project in the style of Chinese folk art and the work of Ku ShuLan, the immensely influential 20th century Chinese folk artist, deepened students’ respect of their own cultural heritage. Yeh’s comprehensive mosaic program taught our students team work skill and the power of defiant action to create beauty in places broken.
  • Yeh’s magnificent mosaic phoenix (the mythic feng huang), which she recreated from a Han dynasty tile design, on the stage platform of our campus reminds our students of the riches of Chinese culture and the power of imagination.
  • She encouraged and provided clear guidance for students to envision their campus with colorful designs. One of the images designed by a student showing a rainbow decorating our education building. Yeh adopted this bold design in the remaking of the education building façade.
  • Her social study program through art “Discovering Resources in the school’s Shou Bao Zhuang Neighborhood Through Mapping” taught students how to translate direct observation and information into visual documents through team collaboration. Through mapping, Yeh required students to identify existing and hidden resources in their poor and neglected neighborhood and to envision its potential and possibilities.
  • Her leadership in mural painting and mosaic making in changing the school environment illustrated the power of imagination and collective action.

Students’ comments at the beginning of the five-year project

“We should transform every corner and every wall and space in our school environment. We should allow more hands-on participation of teachers and students.  We want to beautify our school with brushes and colors.  Also we need to increase the plants in our school.  Let us, students and teachers, experience personally the feeling of planting trees and flowers.”

– Song Tzi-Yang

 

“I would like to see more drawing from life.  This will help us to understand nature; help us to protect our environment.”
– Ku Ming-Shen

 

“I would like to paint my homeland, my parents, myself, my school and my dreams.”
-Dan Zuan-Ming

Teachers’ comments during the Project:

“We all have creative sparks inside of us, but they got buried. When one is engaged in creating art, one feels relaxed.  One feels a sense of accomplishment from one’s heart.  What a wonderful feeling!”
– Kang Rei-Juan

 

“There is beauty everywhere.  Only we lack creativity and ability to discover. In a nurturing and relaxed environment, we are stimulated and can become more creative. We are more likely to discover the sparks of creativity within ourselves. We are not afraid that we might not be able to do it. We are afraid that we might not be able to imagine.”
– Jiao Ming-Li

 

“I am discovering a lot of potential in my students that I have not realized before.  Their creativity and sensitivity are worthy enough for us to learn from.”
– Zhang Da-Yun

Observers’ comments at the Dandelion Transformation Exhibition at the prestigious Today Art Museum in Central Beijing, at the end of the project:

“This is a great project for the heart and spirit.”

 

“A powerful and deeply moving documentary exhibition! I see hope. I see beauty of the spirit. I feel life force moving. I wish very much to see more of this (kind of art) in more spaces, so more people will understand.”

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