Dia de los Muertos at Park

Dia de los Muertos at Park Magnet
Posted on 11/14/2018
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Dia de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” is a multi-day celebratory holiday in Mexico. Festivities involve happy gatherings of family and friends to honor loved ones who have passed. They are remembered and honored through parades, meals, and other gatherings, and are represented by various colorful symbols and memorabilia. Ms. Lorraine Valladares teaches Spanish at Park Magnet to K-5th grade students. As an IB World School, all Park Magnet students receive foreign language instruction. Mrs. Valladares does an excellent job of creatively threading together language skills with lessons that allow students to explore Hispanic culture and traditions. For Dia de los Muertos (observed October 31 - November 2), students completed unique projects to celebrate this sacred holiday that is unique from any other in United States culture. Ms. Valladares works to communicate that Dia de los Muertos isn’t truly about mourning death at all, but about celebrating life and honoring death as a part of the journey of life.

The holiday is first introduced to students in second grade. As an introductory concept, Ms. Valladares focuses on the imaginative part of the festivities. She provides lessons about honoring friends and family who have passed in our hearts through the telling of stories.

In third grade students create their first Dia de los Muertos projects, which are masks or “Calacas”. At this stage, students learn about how Latin cultures celebrate death as a natural part of the life cycle. Colors chosen for masks have different meanings, which are explained to students. For example, white may be chosen to represent hope. Oftentimes, Calacas are worn by dancers in parades and ceremonies to symbolize the end of Dia de los Muertos, and the return or separation of visiting spirits from the living.

For fourth graders, activities take them further in depth to understanding how [the holiday suggests] souls are individually celebrated for their passage into another life or experience via the making of Sugar skulls or “Calacas.” Calacas honor loved ones and friends who have passed with colorful decoration and adornments in the shape of a human skull. They are always smiling, which differentiates them from skeleton faces often used in the United States during Halloween for spooky characters and costumes.

The most complex project is for fifth graders. Students are divided into teams to create altars or “ofrendas,” which are often the most recognized symbol of Dia de los Muertos. Teams build ofrendas in multiple story designs and include a photo of a loved one, as well as marigold flowers, candles, bowls of water and salt, and other memorabilia and colorful adornments to represent the individuals being honored. Students learn how the ofrenda is a symbol for welcoming the spirit of the deceased and celebrate his/her memory in happiness. Ofrendas may be quite elaborate in some cases, however all include the use of the four elements: water, wind, earth and fire. Water is left in a pitcher so the spirits can quench their thirst. “Papel picado,” or traditional paper banners, represent the wind. Earth is represented by food, especially bread or sometimes salt. Candles are often left in the form of a cross to represent the cardinal directions, so the spirits can find their way. The marigold, and flowers in general, are used to represent the fragility of life. The project is somewhat of a competition, which makes it even more fun for students.  Ms. Valladares arranges for staff members to judge ofrendas based on a rubric that students follow from the beginning of the project. A winner is chosen among the ofrendas that most aligns with the project goals, cultural meaning, and overall creativity.

All student projects are displayed by Ms. Valladares in the hallway for Park classes to enjoy. Learn more about our HSSD Park Magnet, An IB World School, here.

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