Bloomfield hills schools – district news

"I learned that Day of the Dead is about happiness, and getting together with family to celebrate people who have passed away," shares Elizabeth Rasi, a 3rd grade student at Lone Pine. Reflecting on the learning in Señor Johns’ Spanish class surrounding Day of the Dead celebrations, Rasi explains, "we did a "See-Think-Wonder" on the board, while looking at pictures of Señor Johns’ grandmother who passed away. It’s good for people to celebrate Day of the Dead every year, because it makes them feel good about themselves and other people." Kindergarteners through 4th graders participated in learning experiences oriented toward group inquiry about the holiday in Señor Johns’ Spanish classes. Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday that takes place from October 31 until November 2.

Approximately 25 families supported and were involved in the celebrations. Two Lone Pine families, Thelma Cecilia Perea Núñez and Bibiana Fernández, collaborated to make altares for the room. Parent Rebecca Bershad got into the spirit of the holiday by wearing festive make-up. Principal of Lone Pine, Dr. Mary Hillberry, who also attended the celebrations, explains, "Señor Johns was doing a cultural review of what Day of the Dead was all about, and connecting it to vocabulary around feelings. He connected to their learning – a lot of the students have seen the movie Coco – and they were able to identify with that and build some vocabulary around that. The altar presentation is set up, and students were asked to think about what they notice. One of the questions they were asked was, "Why do you think we’re putting food out for dead people?" He introduced them to modeling sugar skulls, which are representations of loved ones. They set about recreating those representations, and the parent volunteers helped."

Spanish teacher Señor Johns explains, "the goal is to let students do the talking, make connections to prior knowledge about the holiday, and to compare and contrast to Halloween and similar holidays shared globally. A main goal was defining the sentiments behind the holiday (sad and happy), and respecting and honoring our loved ones who have passed away. It’s about cherishing life." When asked by a student why people would be happy on Day of the Dead, Señor Johns explains to the class, "Decorating skeletons is about remembering that life is beautiful. It’s not just about remembering that our family members aren’t with us anymore. We’re making this skeleton beautiful, to remind ourselves that yes, someday we will pass away, but the most important thing is that we live our lives to the fullest, and remember our loved ones forever."

Students garnered a variety of lessons from the explorations surrounding Day of the Dead. 3rd grade student Andrea Gratton explains, "Something that I learned is that the bread is called ‘pan de muerto,’" which translates to "bread of the dead." Xander Earhart, 3rd grader, shares his learning: "To celebrate Day of the Dead, people go to the graves of their loved ones who have passed away. They celebrate when they died, and they make sugar skulls. Sugar skulls are skulls that are made out of sugar, and there are special designs and colors on them. They go to their loved ones’ graves, and put oranges and Mexican food on their graves, and they pray that their loved ones come back." And 3rd grade student Nikhil Gupta explains, "I learned that you light candles and put up pictures of the people so they can come back and look at everything that you’ve done. Our Spanish teacher made a bench with food so that when they come back, they can eat the food."

Señor Johns shares his passion for language and culture with his students in powerful ways. "Spanish class needs to be more about just language proficiency. Spanish at any level needs to consist of engaging students in discussion about shared global experiences. Talking about things that are close to our hearts and opening our minds to the cultural practices of others involves students in a memorable, meaningful way. I believe we had some discussions that the students will always remember and will inspire positive acceptance of others for years to come."