Heart Touch Takes Diversity Program to Holt Elementary School

  • November 11th, 2015

By Peter Mullins and Jianlong Yang
CCBP Student Assistants
Photos by Jianlong Yang

HOLT — Social Work graduate student Fan Yang is using her awarding-winning Heart Touch program to help elementary students understand cultures different from their own. Yang, from China, has been working for the past two years to enhance cultural competency and understanding between different ethnic groups. She engages a diverse range of foreign volunteers from the University of Alabama to work with small groups of children as a way of bonding and sharing cultural differences.

Most recently, she took her program to Holt Elementary School in Tuscaloosa County, where Peng Shi, a tai chi instructor from Tuscaloosa, demonstrated the art to 30 fourth and fifth grade students. Earlier, she originated a pen pal program between elementary students in Alabama and China to help them get to know each others’ likes and interests.

Yang’s program addresses the need for young Americans and foreign students at the University of Alabama to understand different cultures. She affirms this purpose by saying: “Both populations [of Americans and foreign students] need to know each others’ culture very well. But they just don’t have access. That’s why I created the program to provide a blackboard so that each population could collaborate in order to know both cultures.”

Yang has plans to expand her program’s resources of foreign volunteers to include Korean students. This will be an addition to her already existing group of Chinese, Japanese and American volunteers.

“We have about ten Korean students right now as volunteers at Northington Elementary School. We are trying to add a Korean culture component after these volunteers know Heart Touch better,” Yang said.

Yang came up with the idea for the Heart Touch program while working as an intern at the Center for Community-Based Partnerships. She won a CCBP Award for Student Excellence in Community-Engaged Scholarship in 2014.

In October, she began a program with Pandora White, an African-American graduate student in biochemistry, to help women and minorities see themselves as future engineers and scientists.

Fan Yang, left, the founder and leader of Heart Touch Program, and Ping Shi, Tai Chi instructor, pause during a break at Holt Elementary School.
Ping Shi teaches Tai Chi to Holt Elementary School students for Heart Touch Program.