The Lower School Celebrates the Day of the Dead with Art, Language, Culture, and Memories

Aidan ’29 never met his great-great-grandmother. But he knows at least one thing about her.

“She liked soup,” says the 3rd grader, pointing to a picture of his great-great-grandparents on his classroom’s ofrenda, a traditional decoration for El Dia de Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. In recognition of the traditional Mexican holiday, each 3rd grade class created an ofrenda, an altar dedicated to the memories of friends and family members who have passed away. On November 1, all of the classes gathered not only around their own ofrendas, but around a larger one that celebrated, among others, members of the Sidwell Friends community who have passed away. (All of the ofrendas will be on display through the month of November.)

“The biggest thing about this celebration of life and telling stories about people who have passed is that they still live in our hearts,” says 3rd grade teacher Eve Eaton. “They’re never really gone.”

The celebration of the Day of the Dead was an interdisciplinary activity that encompassed nearly every subject covered in the 3rd grade at Sidwell Friends. In addition to all of the 3rd grade teachers, Spanish teachers Angela Ballesteros Gomez and LuzMarina Cardozo Munoz teamed with art teacher Sabreena Jeru-Ahmed to ensure the celebration covered the cultural, linguistic, and artistic elements of the holiday. The curriculum even stretched to include the grade level’s emphasis on service learning.

“Our service learning in 3rd grade is service to elders,” says Eve. “So celebrating our ancestors really ties in with that.”

Each of the ofrendas is touching, with pictures of family members interspersed with photographs of dogs and cats. Each table also has an assortment of objects—flowers, favorite foods, and trinkets representing things their ancestors loved—that students left as tangible memories of those who have passed on.

Ahana ’29 stands in front of a photograph of her grandfather; she met him when she was a baby but has no memories of him except those her parents have passed along to her. Which is, after all, a major focus of the holiday.

“The important thing about telling stories about people who have passed is that they still live on in our hearts,” Eve says. “They’re never really gone.”

Ahana agrees. “It’s about bringing the spirits alive.”

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