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Episode 112: Spanish DLI Students Mark Important Day with Opening of Museum

It was a moving celebration of Dia de los Muertos created, in part, by Spanish Dual Language Immersion Classes at Riverside Elementary School. On this episode of the Supercast, Superintendent Godfrey takes you inside the temporary Dia de los Muertos museum which was organized by 3rd grade teacher Kathy Wride. Find out how students were able to honor family members, including pets who have passed away, by creating altars for them.


Audio Transcription

Anthony Godfrey:
Welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. It was a moving celebration of Dia de Los Muertos created in part by Spanish Dual Language Immersion classes at Riverside Elementary School. On this episode of the Supercast, we go inside the temporary Dia de Los Muertos museum organized by third grade teacher, Kathy Wride. Find out how students were able to honor family members, including pets, who have passed away by creating altars for them. 

We are here at Riverside Elementary with Kathy Wride to talk about her Dia de Los Muertos activity. And this is something that's been going on for a while. Is that right?

Kathy Wride:
Yeah. Seven years. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay. Introduce yourself a little bit and tell us about this activity.

Kathy Wride:
I've been in the Spanish Immersion program since I started about seven years ago. My first year at Riverside, I wanted to bring forth culture, and what better way than to celebrate Day of the Dead and to actually introduce something that is celebrated in a Hispanic culture. That is also why we are a Spanish Immersion school. So this is my baby for the last seven years.

Anthony Godfrey:
So we're standing in the gym right now. We have some music in the background that you can hear, and there is a wall of artwork that the students have put together. But there's also row after row of displays that students have created, and it's really amazing. You have the lights dimmed and it creates a wonderful atmosphere in here. Tell me about Day of the Dead and how all of this works.

Kathy Wride:
Well, the Day of the Dead is celebrated November 1st and 2nd in Mexico and Latin American countries. It's very highly emphasized, more in Mexico. They have a big celebration in their towns and villages and everything. This is just something to celebrate those that have departed. It can be individuals, it can be also pets that have passed away. We do have quite a few, because pets are part of a family. So it's celebrated as celebrating their life. It has nothing to do with death. We recognize, we remember the loved ones that have passed on. It's just something beautiful that they do in Latin American countries and we brought it here to Riverside.

Anthony Godfrey:
Let's talk about the wall over here. Let's walk over and take a look at the artwork there.

Kathy Wride:
The wall is just the Calaveras. It’s just a very big symbol that represents the actual person that has passed, or like I said, a pet that has passed. It’s just a representation, like a symbol of life of what they used to be. We don't do any dark colors. It's very pink, orange, all the bright colors you can possibly do. Then it just emphasizes the culture and just the life that the person or pet had.

Anthony Godfrey:
So it's really a celebration. 

Kathy Wride:
It's totally a celebration, nothing sad about it.

Anthony Godfrey:
So are there any of these that you can give me any additional detail about?

Kathy Wride:
No. With the movie Coco that came out a few years ago, that actually helped introduce Day of the Dead a little bit more to parents. They were actually able to understand what it was. So that's why I connected with Coco, the movie. Parents were like, “Oh wow! Yes, this is great.” They get involved, they start sharing. But the art is just their interpretation, like a student's interpretation of what a Calavera would be. So their colors, they picked. The only thing they're told: don't black, no dark colors, just bring life to your calavera. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay. Very good. So there's the Calavera, which is the skull. I see that they're decorating in various ways with various designs. So the skull is a part of it. 

Kathy Wride:
Yes, a very big part. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Are there any other instructions beyond that? Just no dark colors, no black.

Kathy Wride:
No dark colors, just have fun with it. Just colors that will represent the person that you're thinking about.

Anthony Godfrey:
And it represents a specific individual.

Kathy Wride:
Whoever they're thinking about that moment or pet, depending on who they're doing it on. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Now tell me about the other component. 

Kathy Wride:
The altars, los altares, all have ofrendas on them. Ofrendas can be from objects to food. It's pretty much anything that the individual or the pet liked while they were living.

Anthony Godfrey:
We have a picture of a father and daughter, it looks like.

Kathy Wride:
You can tell right away just by looking at it, he loves popcorn. He likes eggs and bacon and he loves cars and he was a handy person because he has tools on there. There's a lot of race car things on there. Pizza was one of his favorite things. So actually, you can kind of tell a lot on the altar. 

Anthony Godfrey:
I don't know either one and it's very touching just to see that.

Kathy Wride:
Yeah. They go all out, with individuals, with pets, you see like their favorite toy. Like we have one over here. This was a little kitten, his name is Whiskers. You can see, he loved playing with string with the little toy ball and the little fluffy mouse and there's even some cat food. We have pictures of course of the animal.

Anthony Godfrey:
Yes. Whiskers looks like a bit of a rascal.

Kathy Wride:
Yeah, and you learn a lot about the person that has passed because everything that's on the altar is something that symbolizes and represents that person.

Anthony Godfrey:
What are some of the reactions you've seen from students as they have gone through this process of creating the altar?

Kathy Wride:
The best thing that I've actually heard from parents is that they appreciate doing this with their students because they're able to bring history back. Something that maybe the student at the time didn't know, a loved one they didn't really get to meet. They're like, “oh, tell me more.” The first two years I did this, there were tears. It was just the joy of having this, just being able to spend family time together. That has been the biggest thing that I've been told. ‘Thank you for letting me share my history with my child. Thank you for letting us bring back a loved one.’ So this has just been able to connect parents with their students. Just being able to bring back a little bit of family history.

Anthony Godfrey:
So sometimes they're creating an altar for someone they may not have met either.

Kathy Wride:
Absolutely.

Anthony Godfrey:
Wow. It's clear just looking over this, that a lot of thought and love and hard work has gone into creating some very touching memorials.

Kathy Wride:
Yeah, honestly, I get super emotional just because I love seeing the connections it has with the parents.

Anthony Godfrey:
Yeah.

Kathy Wride:
This year we asked the dual immersion teachers to make an altar. I have one and another English immersion teacher did one and she's fantastic. The teachers were able to share with their students some personal things about themselves. Mine's right here. It's very simple, but it tells a lot about my poor dog that decided to pass away because cancer took him away. I was able to remember him and I spoke to my students about him. Then there's another one over here. This is from another teacher. She was able to share with her students in Spanish, because she's one of our Spanish immersion teachers as well.

Anthony Godfrey:
These are pictures of her parents I assume.

Kathy Wride:
I'm assuming those are grandparents. So she was able to create one and the students got to know a little bit more about her family. It just creates connections, not just with family, but with teachers and their students.

Anthony Godfrey:
So there are connections with those who've passed, but also with the friends around you who can support you now that they know you a little bit better and they know who you've lost and what your connection is to them. I love yours with the picture of Einstein over the top. That's a great picture of your dog having a great time in the snow. 

Kathy Wride:
I choke up because I don't get sad. I was pregnant with my last daughter, my last child, and I have a picture. One of the last things that I took of him by my side when I was pregnant, and he would just cuddle with me. So I share that with my kids and then we just remember him and remember the best times.

Anthony Godfrey:
Well, that's a great lesson to students to remember the good times and to really empathize with what other people have been through.

Kathy Wride:
You just feel a love. This is all about love. You feel them, you can feel that family connection, you can feel who this person or who this pet was, what a difference they made in your life. Whether it's for the student themselves or for their parents or their grandparents, things like that. So there's just that connection that I love.

Anthony Godfrey:
What an immersive, important learning opportunity. This is incredible. 

Stay with us. When we come back, students talk about the altars they created to honor family members who've passed, including beloved pets.

Break:
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Anthony Godfrey:
Is this every grade 1st through 6th?

Kathy Wride:
Yes, 1st-6th. We have some kindergartners that decided to do it, and we also have a preschooler that did it as well, but we have first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth. So it's just amazing, like just the detail that goes into all their altares.

Anthony Godfrey:
Well, and when they know that they're doing it year to year, then they're probably thoughtful over the course of the year, about who am I going to honor? What am I going to do this time?

Kathy Wride:
Yes. Sometimes they even use the same one, but they add another detail they may have found out and they're like, ‘oh, this is great.’ You know? So it's just cool to see, it's amazing to see.

Anthony Godfrey:
So the connection just deepens over time.

Kathy Wride:
For sure. It's amazing.

Anthony Godfrey:
That's really something. With COVID and everything that's been going on, does this take on a greater significance?

Kathy Wride:
Absolutely. We do have some altars that are of individuals that have passed because of COVID. So instead of remembering the sad part of COVID, they remember the person's life and it just creates, like I said, a bigger bond. It helps you remember the good, not when they were sick, not when they were ready to go. It just helps you reconnect with the person. 

Anthony Godfrey:
It's interesting because even though I have no connection to anyone represented here, I'm thinking about my own family, my friends and my pets, and it makes you cherish what you have. Thank you so much. 

Tell me your name.

Abby:
I’m Abby.

Anthony Godfrey:
Abby, what grade are you in? 

Abby:
Sixth grade. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Will you tell me about your altar and who you honored?

Abby:
So I'm honoring my great, great grandpa Howard. He worked at an oil field, he made spinning wheels and stuff like that. He made the newspaper a lot for making all of his spinning wheels. 

Anthony Godfrey:
What's something you learned about him that you didn't know before this project?

Abby:
I didn't know he made his own spinning wheels.

Anthony Godfrey:
That's a really unique talent. Where did you get the idea to honor him?

Abby:
My parents and I were just thinking about him.

Anthony Godfrey:
Do you feel a connection to him that you didn't feel before? 

Abby:
Yeah.

Anthony Godfrey:
It looks really good. What did you make here? What is that?

Abby:
That’s an oil field. It's an oil tank because he worked there.

Anthony Godfrey:
So the spinning wheel was on the side in addition to his work? 

Abby:
Yes. 

Anthony Godfrey:
So you have a picture of him and it looks really nice an article about him too. Oh, that's exciting. Well, thank you very much. Great work. 

Tell me your name. 

Ellie:
I'm Ellie.

Anthony Godfrey:
Ellie, tell me about your altar.

Ellie:
This is my dad's uncle, Rick. I think he died a couple of months ago and I never actually got to know him very well. He owned horses and he and my dad would go and ride all the time. I never have seen his horses, but it's really cool to hear about. I was told that he really loved pie. He liked all kinds of pie and he loved fishing. He would just go all out with the outdoor stuff. And because I didn't know him very well, I don't understand it all, but I do think that he was one of my dad's biggest role models in his life.

Anthony Godfrey:
What did you think of just doing this project in general?

Ellie:
At first I didn't really care for it very much, but every year you keep doing it, and the more it ends up kind of like meaning something to you. I did a different person or a pet every year and it just became really special.

Anthony Godfrey:
That's wonderful. Well, great work. It looks really nice and I'm sure your dad is proud and I'm sure it meant a lot to your dad. Okay. Thank you very much. 

Tell me your name, 

Audrey:
Audrey

Anthony Godfrey:
Audrey, talk to me about your altar.

Audrey:
This was my great grandfather Stanley Jones. He had his own construction company. He really liked York Peppermint Patties. He used to do carpet cleaning before he did construction, and he really liked animals.

Anthony Godfrey:
Who are some of the other people that you honored? 

Audrey:
My mom had a friend who’s son died of a brain tumor, so I did him. I've done my grandma and my grandpa and my great grandma.

Anthony Godfrey:
Very nice. Well, obviously it's had an impact on you and I really appreciate your talking with me about the altar. All right, thanks. Great job. 

Tell me your name.

Sofia:
Sofia

Anthony Godfrey:
Sofia, talk to me about the altar. Who are you honoring here?

Sofia:
So this is my grandma. Her name is Grandma Beryl. She's my dad's grandma and my great-grandma. She died the day after Mother's Day, this Mother's Day. She really liked chocolate. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Oh yeah? Do you like chocolate as well?

Sofia:
Sometimes it depends on the type. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Not as much as she did though. Huh. Obviously she just passed away recently, so you know her.

Sofia:
We would usually go to her house for family dinners. I think she had four sons.

Anthony Godfrey:
What do you know about her because of this project?

Sofia:
I learned that she hated peaches, but she would can them every year for her husband because her husband loved peaches.

Anthony Godfrey:
So she hated peaches, but loved her husband. Oh, that's really cool. So what do you think about this project?

Sofia:
It's really fun because you get to learn a lot of things about your ancestors and it's a fun way to just learn.

Anthony Godfrey:
Who are some of the other people you've honored over the years?

Sofia 5:
I think I honored my dad's great grandpa and the wife of his great-grandfather.

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay. Well that looks really nice. I love the roses and the circle around the picture of her face. Is that a picture of you and her in the heart there? 

Sofia:
Yeah. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Wow. I really like that. And the candles that you have lit electronically they're on top of the altar and the beautiful designs on those candle holders. Is this a project that you'll remember after elementary school? 

Sofia:
Yeah. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Yeah. It's had an impact on you. Okay. Thank you very much for talking with me about that. That's very cool. Thank you. 

Thanks for joining us on the Supercast. Remember education is the most important thing you'll do today. We'll see you out there.

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