Staff Focus: Leo Lazo, CCDD Character Education Coordinator/Counsellor

 Written by Roseline Yang, Community Relations Officer

If you drop-off and pick-up your child at school from the Primary gate of Regency Park Campus, the welcoming greeting from Mr. Leo will be familiar to you. Leo is a very well-known character among our students, especially in Primary for his entertaining and inspiring Character Education assemblies that he is leading for each year level on a monthly basis at YCIS. Among teachers, Leo is very well-known for helping with his photographing skills during school big events such as Founders Day or Sports Day.  If you have been on a Parent Seeds of Hope Trip, you might have had the chance to get to know him a bit more in-depth.

Leo is a manof many talents and so is his story withseveral different layers. Let’s meet and discover Leo together!

Leo, the focus is on you for this staff article, because I happened to overhear a keyword in a discussion you were having with some students in the corridor near the photocopy machine. It was at lunch time just after Chinese New Year holidays, you were sharing that you had been in the local newspaper! Can you tell me a bit more?

Well, I have been invited by my friends of the bus line 69, because my wife Melissa and I have been giving them a present for Chinese New Year over the years to show our appreciation for their work. You know public transportation is a thankless job. This is a service industry: people just expect bus drivers to do their job and bring them to their destination. Our family has been taking this line every day since 1999, so it’s a very long-term relationship (he laughs). For us, it is normal to give a little something when we can. Let’s say it is a bit like the Staff Appreciation Day that POP organizes every year with the help of YCIS parents to express their gratitude to all the staff of the school: from teachers to all support staff like ayis, bus drivers and security guards.

Hmm…I see. I just wonder how you figured out what they would appreciate. It’s already difficult to think of a birthday present for a friend or a colleague…

(smile) We listen, we talk with people. When we started to take the bus, we would just say hello, smile and say thank you. Little by little, with time, we started to have small talks. People like to discuss and share about their daily life or what surrounds them, just like children talk about their toys and friends or parents about their jobs and hobbies.

Also, you know giving tips is not part of the culture in China. Even when I was saying thank you, the drivers were answering: “it’s my duty”: people here are used to not expecting things. At the beginning, I was a bit annoyed by this answer, because in my language a common answer would be: “you’re welcome” or “it’s my pleasure”. I had to get used to this response and instead of being negative about this, I went with the flow. (smile)

However, when they open up, we seize the opportunity to help and give. For example, once we found out that one of the bus drivers had an accident and was paralyzed, that is why his wife was doing double shifts to earn more money. The next time we saw her we presented her with a Hong Bao with some money. As you can imagine, she refused at first but we are good at persuading people. She was very grateful for the gift. That is how we see when there is an area where we can help. I guess that food is always appreciated in any culture, especially during important festivals such as Chinese New Year or Christmas. We started with baked food where every driver and dispatcher had at least 2 pieces of cookies or cakes. Another year we gave a roasted duck to each of the staff of our bus line. It is normal for us as they are part of the community where we live.

Thank you for sharing, Leo. So, how many years exactly have you been working at YCIS?  Are you the oldest staff at YCIS? When did you start working for YCIS?

It’s difficult to say as I left and came back.  I’m definitely not the oldest staff YCIS has had. There’s another colleague at Puxi who started the same year as I did and we actually might finish at the same time. I started in Gubei campus in 1995 when it first opened. 1993 was the year the first YCIS campus in Shanghai opened, in Hongqiao.

Thus, the celebration of YCIS Shanghai 25thAnniversary this year! What roles or positions have you occupied? Have you always had a role of Character Education Coordinator / Counsellor? Why did you stay so long with YCIS?

Well, well. That’s a lot to answer in a row (laughs). I have been with Yew Chung all this time because the school has always been good to me. They have given me everything I needed and asked for. For example, I first took the position of a teaching assistant in Gubei even when I had been an English teacher at the university previously. Since the teacher I was assisting had allergies, I ended-up actually being in the role of the main teacher. So, when I later asked to become a proper teacher and I had my own EAL students for several years. At that time, since Gubei was not fully a high school yet, I later became a homeroom teacher and I got to teach computer science for Primary and Lower Secondary (laughs). This was in the early years when people did not have computer skills and I always have been interested by technology. I also had the opportunity to be sent for apsychology training: TOK (Theory of Knowledge), because the school was working on their accreditation for IB. At that time, I was the only teacher with a psychology degree and a Master’s Degree in Clinical Counselling I had done in US South Carolina. Therefore, I got to teach theIB Psychology class. I then had to leave in 2005 to follow my elder son for his studies at the university, but I came back in 2009 and a new position was created for me under the CMED (Christian Moral Education Department, now called CCDD). The creation of Seeds of Hope came along at that time and that’s how I have been on board with the coordination of Seeds of Hope Trips around China as well as continuing with my role of teaching and developing the Character Education Program with the team.

Wow! Yes, that was a lot. Not easy to summarize. Thank you for all your time. That’s what we call the waves of life, right? It’s so interesting how your natural care of others, your passion for photography, your interest in travellingin China, as well as this aspect of charity and love through your Christian faith came altogether in this last position.

Actually, I’m grateful that I’m being blessed to have met and known the Chinese community during my student life in Houston in the US. They are the ones who taught me about faith and what it means as many of them were disowned for giving up their family religion. Although I was the only Caucasian, they accepted me as a member of their community and gave me the opportunity to do something when I had very little. And they never asked anything in return. I believe that is why my heart has always been towards the Chinese community and that I feel like this is my call here in China: finding ways to help and give back.

I have been blessed, not to keep for myself. Thus, everywhere I go I have these questions in my mind: “How can I help? What can I do?”

There’s so much more I would like to ask you: your involvement with Huge Grace orphanage, the special bond you have developed over the years with the students and families from Seeds of Hope schools, your other artistic talents, your views and experience in China, your life before joining YCIS, your studies, your origins from Cuba, but I’ll leave it to the people who are interested to know more to continue their discovery!

Is there anything you would like to share with the students, parents, teachers, community?

Parents: Let the kids be kids. Let them have fun. They have enough pressure. Enjoy them. Love them to death because there will be a time when they won’t be around. Make memories now.

If you listen to the lyrics of the song Cats in the Cradle from Harry Chapman, it says it all: Make time for your kids, whenever you can. Enjoy and do something that will build shared memories for you and them.

Students: Learn to appreciate what you have, because as you are grateful, you are going to be happy. You know, it’s hard to be grateful and unhappy at the same time.

So, if there is one message I’d like you to remember is: be grateful. Being grateful changes the heart. Being grateful changes perspectives.

Teachers: Every school has room for improvements.

I have worked with every Gubei Co-Principal. Some were great at starting Gubei but then it was harder for them to keep developing it. Every individual has their specialty.

As teachers, we need to build our network into the community. When we are part of the community, we develop common roots. If you don’t find roots, you are skimming along. Find a network of people outside of the school. Be able to follow your passion so that your work will thrive.

Thank you so much again, Leo. It has been my very great pleasure to interview you and I am so grateful that I was able to finish my “career as reporter” for YCIS Pudong Newsletter Staff Focus with you by discovering more in-depth the heart of Yew Chung and the meaning of YCIS Motto – Aligns with Love and Charity.