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.
At Sewickley Academy, Spanish classes from each division assembled their own altars/ofrendas as a cultural learning and appreciation exercise. Through a variety of activities, students embraced this beautiful Mexican celebration and gained a deeper understanding of how another culture honors the dead. Lower School students dedicated their altar to a Pittsburgh hero who embodied our school’s Mission and Core Values: Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers stood for kindness, love, peace, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Students drew his portrait and his trademark red trolley, and added special items such as puppets, a mindfulness jar, children’s toys and games, and other symbolic items, to represent his life. They decorated their own calaveras de azúcar (sugar skulls), and colored calacas (skulls) to place on their altar. Additionally, in preparation for the holiday, students practiced two traditional Mexican songs, “Cielito Lindo” and “De Colores.” Their preparation paid off when they were able to sing along with the Senior School mariachis who surprised them in the cafeteria during lunchtime. This joyous event showcased a few of our Senior School instrumentalists led by their teacher Vanessa Candreva on keyboard and vocals. Head of Lower School Dr. Mikheev joined in the surprise by accompanying the band with her ukulele.
The Middle School would like to give a special thank you to Mrs. Reyes, Mrs. Lopez, Mrs. Santana, and Mrs. Busatto who were instrumental in the making of the altar and ofrenda which was displayed prominently in the Middle School Commons for the past week. Parents brought in special fabrics, candles, marigolds, sugar skulls, catrinas, fruits, special breads (pan de muerto), and banners to enhance the altar. Before the altar was built, students voted on famous people to celebrate. As a group, they dedicated their altar to Ms. Carrie Fisher, Sir Roger Moore, and Ms. Aretha Franklin.
For a special activity period on November 1st, students planned an hour-long workshop for their peers to learn about the tradition and participate in celebratory practices. Students had the opportunity to rotate between four different activities, including a traditional dance known as the Danza de Los Viejitos, a history lesson with Mrs. Reyes and Mrs. Brown, mask-making, and viewing a silent movie about Día de los Muertos. With their teachers’ guidance, student leaders did a phenomenal job preparing and creating all of the workshops. It was creative, well-organized, educational, and fun. Our students came away with an enriched understanding of the Day of the Dead. The beautiful altar served as a reminder of what we learned and became more meaningful to students as they passed by. The student direction on this event provided a great example of what inspired students can do to teach others and the growth of student leaders in our community.
Two weeks prior to the holiday, Senior School Spanish students prepared for two buddy classes with first graders, in which they conversed in Spanish, played a scavenger hunt game, and elaborately constructed a traditional altar together. Students from all divisions enjoyed welcoming Lower School students as they toured around to see the altars.
One of the altars in the Senior School celebrated Aretha Franklin, a famous singer who won 18 Grammy Awards for her music. An avid supporter of social justice, two of Aretha’s songs became anthems for the civil rights movement and the women’s movement, “Respect” and “Natural Woman.” The altar itself was made up of boxes wrapped in Ms. Franklin’s music along with items that represented her life. Students watched and discussed a video featuring the importance of this celebration prior to constructing Day of the Dead skulls and cut-out colorful paper flowers.
A second altar in the Senior School Commons honored the memory of local rapper Mac Miller. The selection was made by the students in honor of his musical talent. The Spanish IV class learned a great deal themselves about the holiday, and immersed themselves into creating an authentic altar. It was truly a creative and cultural learning experience.
Our multi-talented ceramics teacher David Lalomia also got into the spirit of the holiday as he guided students to create and paint hand-sculpted calaveras, or skulls. We are immensely grateful to the cross divisional and cross departmental collaboration from students and faculty. We also wish to give a very special thank you to parents who contributed authentic ofrenda elements and shared their expertise.
View more photos of the celebration on our Facebook page