Traditions and Cultural Relevance: Honoring Día de Los Muertos

Update, 11/1/2017: “I really enjoyed and appreciated all the effort that the students, parents and teachers put forth this year to make the art installation a success,” commented Spanish teacher Sara Sobkoviak. “Reflecting back on the creative learning process, it was not just a project assignment it was so much more. This was a community-wide learning experience, where students worked together with their buddies or in class groups to create one piece of a larger whole, and teachers were also called upon to rearrange schedules and curriculum to help facilitate that process.

“I loved watching our community members and students see for the first time all of the projects together outside the classroom,” she continued. “Most were so surprised and amazed at the amount of elements. Wonderful memories surfaced in conversations about loved ones between visitors, while others were able to engage with the art pieces, learning more about language and culture.” 

Día de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a celebration that takes place most notably in Mexico and is the result of cultures and traditions merging throughout history. During the course of two days (November 1-2), families gather and take a special journey to the grave sites and resting places of their loved ones to spend the days and evenings celebrating their past lives feasting, dancing, and sharing memories. This is a time of reflection and appreciation of the time they had with them. This special holiday is not related to Halloween and is not meant to be scary. It is a time to reflect and remember the special loved ones, the angels in our lives, even pets who have passed away. Traditionally ofrendas or altars are decorated with flowers, candles, sugar skulls, figurines, and food and objects representing loved ones.

At Mount Madonna School (MMS), all students are learning about the history and origins of Day of the Dead, as well as the art and traditions surrounding it. Each class is working on projects that will contribute to an art installation to be showcased outside the upper school Spanish classroom starting October 31. Parents and visitors are invited to stop by and view what the students learned and created. Elementary students will have the opportunity to visit the art installation. On October 31 at the upper campus, students will also have the opportunity to taste the special food and drinks associated with this tradition and prepared by the students.

“Many of the students have asked us if they could bring in photos of special loved ones (including pets) that have passed and that they would like to honor,” noted middle and high school Spanish teacher Sara Sobkoviak. “We [Sobkoviak, and Spanish teachers Anand Darsie and Prema Gammons] welcome students to use this art installation as a way to celebrate those that they would like to remember. If your student chooses to participate in this way, please label the back of the photograph or item so that we can return them to the student when the display comes down.” All objects need to be brought in by Monday, October 30.

Preschool and kindergarten students worked with their fifth grade big buddies to create tasty pan de muerto (Day of the Dead bread). Fifth graders made papel picado, elaborate designs cut into brightly colored pieces of tissue paper.

First grade students created colorful art pieces to display on the walls and windows of the Spanish classroom. Second graders chalk drawings of skeletons (with the parts of the skeleton labelled in Spanish) will be displayed at the large ofrenda.

Third graders made homemade horchata, a traditional rice beverage. Students learned how to soak and prepare the rice and about various spices by following a recipe in Spanish. Third and fourth graders, and their eighth grade buddies, molded and decorated traditional calaveras de azúcar or sugar skulls.

“It’s gratifying to see the entire school coming together and collaborating across grades to celebrate Día de Los Muertos by contributing to our beautiful display,” shared lower school Spanish teacher Prema Gammons. “Through the creation of traditional crafts, elementary students have the opportunity to connect to something tangible and culturally relevant in their Spanish studies that takes place in nearby communities.”

Eighth graders also created the detailed center piece. Sixth and seventh graders designed dioramas and figurines representing the vocabulary they use in class. High school students contributed original Spanish poetry and stories and art pieces.

“For the first time at MMS, all students have the opportunity to create and be a part of this lovely and meaningful celebration of culture and history,” commented Sobkoviak. “In addition the projects created by our students, our high school Community Outreach and Connection Group will be present to share their recent experience at the Farmworker Reality tour in Watsonville hosted by The Center for Farmworker Families.

“They will use this art installation as an opportunity to educate about the importance of cultural diversity and how we can help to strengthen our ties and help migrant worker families within our community,” she continued. “There will be a monetary donation box at the display to help ease the burden and transitions for these families. The Community Outreach and Connection group is diligently working towards finding ways to ‘love our farmworker,’ those who work tirelessly in the fields to grow and harvest our fruits and vegetables.”

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Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.