Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a joyous time to remember those who have passed away. In Mexico, ancient Aztec traditions were combined with Christianity during the Spanish conquest. As a result, each year families construct colorful altars or ofrendas in their homes that essentially welcome the spirit of their loved ones on November 1st and 2nd.
GIFT Grant Teaches Students about Día de los Muertos
The Home and School Association awarded Spanish teachers Mrs. Jennifer Brown, Ms. Alison Howells, and Ms. Monica Lynn a Grant for Innovative Frameworks in Teaching (GIFT) for a cross-curricular and cross-divisional experience designed around Sewickley Academy’s World Language classes.
Earlier in the year, students celebrated Día de los Muertos in the classroom. But on Friday, December 8, students in Grades 4, 5, and 8 had the opportunity to learn more about the Mexican holiday outside of the classroom and even off campus. In the morning, Grade 8 students served as role models to their younger counterparts by facilitating small group sessions that included interactive critical thinking activities and conversations about family and cultural heritage, perseverance, polyglotism, diversity, art, and imagination.
After a lunch break, students and teachers walked into the Sewickley Village to see the Pixar movie Coco at the Tull Family Theater. Upon returning to campus, Grade 8 students led wrap-up conversations and activities while enjoying surprise Mexican delicacies in the Lower School cafeteria – churros and chocolate! A homemade star piñata was brought in by Sewickley Academy parent Edith Reyes who talked about cultural traditions for the next Mexican holiday, Las Posadas. Incidentally, Las Posadas is a holiday Grade 4 students had just studied and rehearsed for the past two weeks, for their intercultural and multilingual Festival of Light and Peace performance the day before. Tía Edith did her best to respond to a Grade 4 student’s question about celebrating a loved one’s death in a happy way. This notion is difficult for many to grasp. Her answer reiterated what the students had just seen from the movie, Coco. Mexican families invite the souls of their loved ones to come back to visit during Day of the Dead. Remembering loved ones as though they are still a part of daily life is a beautiful aspect of Latin culture.
In their proposal, Mrs. Brown, Ms. Howells, and Ms. Lynn noted the importance of the cross-divisional experience and reflections. “At a time of confusion and much negativity built around Mexican culture and stereotypes, this experience will impact our students by realizing the critical importance of thorough first-hand research with authentic and reliable sources; the value of personally experiencing and fully embracing other cultures and traditions; and the need to share our positive findings and experiences with others.”