As part of their study of El Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead holiday in Hispanic culture, students throughout the school learn about ofrendas, or offerings built as altars or shrines, to remember and celebrate the lives and memory of those who have passed on.
While traditional ofrendas vary greatly in size and format, they have a number of things in common. They always prominently identify the person who is being invited to the altar with photos and often religious icons. These altars also feature specific items to represent the four essential elements: earth/la tierra, water/el agua, fire/el fuego and air/el aire. These items would appeal to the senses of the deceased and are placed on the ofrendas with the hope that these physical reminders would bring the spirits back to visit their loved ones on Novermber 1 and 2. Items such as candles, incense, favorite foods, drinks, treasured personal items, pan de muerto (the bread of the dead), papel picado (paper cutouts), calaveras de azúcar (decorated candied skulls made from compressed sugar) and cempazuchitl (marigold flowers) are among the typical features in each altar.
Prior to Dia de los Muertos, 1st grade students created small-scale ofrendas honoring Colonel Francis Wayland Parker, Rosa Parks and Babe Ruth. Second grade students also contributed to the cultural celebration, creating a number of additional mini-ofrendas in honor of fallen friends, family members and even a celebrity or two.
Seventh grade students acknowledged this holiday by erecting four full-size ofrendas, one dedicated to Kate Spade on the third floor by the Collab Lab and three on the second floor to honor the lives of Aretha Franklin, Stephen Hawking and the 11 victims of the Squirrel Hill Tree of Life Synagogue, shooting, as well as one smaller ofrenda outside the library dedicated to Todd Bol, the creator of the Little Free Library movement. The 7th grade extended their learning of this holiday by making their own personal ofrendas dedicated to those of their own choosing. Their ofrendas are on display in the 7th grade classroom along with a full-size classroom ofrenda dedicated to two of Mexico’s beloved artists, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
All these pieces drew much interest during the past couple of weeks, and the Midwest Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League shared its sentiments on Twitter after seeing a photo of one of these 7th grade ofrendas:
Many thanks to the teachers and students who helped our school community honor those that have passed and acknowledge this special celebration!