Bojun Li was so proficient in mathematics by fifth grade that he became math teacher’s assistant for other students at Kensington Parkwood Elementary School. He’s also a talented young musician with 10 years of piano experience. Now, he’s combining his gift for teaching with his talent in music to change lives.
Upon graduating elementary school, a school counselor suggested Bojun begin his student service learning requirements early based on his teaching skills and desire to help others. His mother, Xin Xu, searched the county website for volunteer organizations that would allow someone as young as Bojun to serve. She found the Tacy Foundation. For three years, Bojun has participated in many of the foundation’s programs.
“Bojun played at Adventist Hospital for patients and visitors, at senior communities and HOC’s for the elderly, at the NIH (National Institute of Health) for staff and patients, and in Baltimore, too, for veterans. He also participated in two CD recordings,” Bojun’s mom Xin said. “Of all the things he’s done with the foundation, however, he loves Piano Pals the most.”
Piano Pals (and Guitar Pals) allows talented students like Bojun to give free music lessons to elementary school students whose families may not be able to afford them. Bojun started his Piano Pals mentorship in summer of 2016, teaching at Fox Chapel Elementary School in Germantown, he said it was a rewarding experience. After summer ended, he decided to continue with Piano Pals during school year. In the past school year, every Friday after school, he went to teach at Gaithersburg Elementary School, and worked very hard to help one of his pupils, Ben, gain confidence.
“Ben just didn’t believe in himself. He said he couldn’t play the piano correctly,” said Xin. “Bojun kept working with him and encouraged him. My son would tell ‘Ben, if you work, you can do it.’ At the end of school year, I went to Ben’s recital to see how well Bojun did as a teacher. Both my son and Ben did a great job, and afterword Ben came up, showed me his medal (the first medal in his life) and gave me a huge and said he hoped we would both be back this school year.”
It wasn’t easy. Xin and her husband Zhanzhuo, both NIH scientists, have a big workload of research. They have to split the task of getting Bojun to his pupils. Moreover, Xin Xu, who only got her driver’s license last year, was in a car accident earlier in her life, so driving makes her nervous and she said she finds the traffic around the school a challenge.
Every Friday afternoon, Bojun’s mother left her work in Bethesda, and drove to their home in North Potomac to pick him up and drive him to his students. Then she returned Bethesda to work. Bojun’s father also drove from Bethesda to bring him back home.
At first Bojun’s parents were reluctant. They asked him if all this driving and juggling schedules was worth the effort. He responded by inviting them to watch him teach and meet his students.
“It was amazing to see how joyful the children were. And Bojun was developing an emotional bond with Ben. He really wanted him to succeed,” said Xin. “We said, ‘Okay, these kids need him and we’ll do this. And when we saw how much it meant to Ben we said, ‘We don’t want to hurt this little boy.’”
“It’s not just the children at Gaithersburg Elementary who are benefitting.” says Xin. “At the end of the past school year, Bojun said he felt so good seeing his students gaining the confidence that comes with achieving goals by working hard and smart. Bojun said watching his student Ben enjoying himself at the piano is the best award he ever got, better than if he himself got a medal in competition.”
Xin said that Piano Pals has helped her son mature.
“We see the spirit of responsibility, giving and forgiving growing in Bojun,” she said. “He's thinking of becoming a successful person when he grows up, so he could better help more underprivileged kids and their families worldwide.”
The family is now committed to this mentoring program. They’ll continue the extra effort it takes to help him make his teaching appointments.
“We will continue to support Bojun in his Piano Pals activities with the Tacy Foundation. I want to thank Mrs. Holliday for being a great role model and for giving our family this fantastic opportunity to do a great thing.”