Dia de los Muertos at West High
It started small a year ago and today has grown to over 600 West High students learning and participating in the Day of the Dead. An idea of four teachers who work with English Language Learners (ELL) as well as teaching Spanish, the project took over a large portion of the fourth floor today.
“Dia de los Muertos is a tradition in Mexico where families honor and celebrate their ancestors,” according to West teacher Susanna Anderson. “With a large number of students of Hispanic descent, it made sense to share the tradition with the rest of the students.”
The project quickly spread to many other cultures as students compared their traditions and beliefs with what they were learning in class. The four teachers involved, Valerie Gates, Yulliana Novoa, Julia Menendez and Anderson, designed projects and exercises based on the class and curriculum each was working with. Several classes had students write poetry about their feelings of death and the traditions of their family and culture.
“We learned a lot about students from the poetry exercise,” said ELL department chair Gates. “Some students were making jokes and other funny things. But some students’ culture does not permit taking death lightly. We all learned as we discussed how death is treated in many cultures around the world.”
The event started with food, always a good draw. Students were able to grab some traditional Mexican sweet bread as well as a traditional drink during their lunch period.
The highlight of the day were three stories shared by teachers in full costume. Each story shared a learning experience from the stories told in Mexico.
According to Gates, the stories help students understand more than just the culture of Mexico. “They are life lessons that students can gain from as they look at their own life.”
Next year the plan is to grow a little more and get even more students involved. “We are a school of diversity,” Gates said. “We can all learn from each other and let what we learn guide us in our relationships in school and in life. The more we know, the better friends we can all become.”
Author: Steven Asay, West High School