Día de los Muertos came to the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School this week, thanks to the collaborative efforts of Spanish teacher Victoria Dryfoos’ Spanish classes and teacher Ken Vincent’s art classes.
Día de los Muertos is a multiday Mexican holiday that celebrates and remembers friends and family members who have died.
Students in the sixth through 11th grades were asked to think of a deceased family member, friend, or pet, or research a famous deceased Latinx, and create altar boxes like the ones decorated in Mexico. The boxes were then decorated in the traditional manner, with food, water, and candles, but also adding in items that the deceased loved.
For the Charter School’s celebration, students were tasked with making small altars with recycled and repurposed materials, along with descriptions in Spanish of who they were celebrating and what materials were used.
Winter Muric, a sixth grader, made an altar for her grandfather, who died when she was 8. Winter’s mother also lived in Central America, and was familiar with the holiday. Winter decorated her altar with a book because her grandfather loved to read.
Bianca Teano, a seventh grader, made an altar for her mother who passed away three years ago. She gave her altar a beach design and candles, because her mother loved the beach and made candles.
Sixth grader Tripp Murphy’s altar was for his grandfather, who died in a motorcycle crash. The altar had many of the traditional elements of an altar during Día de los Muertos, and a motorcycle.
Not all the altars were for deceased relatives. Eighth grader Ada Chronister made her altar for artist Frida Kahlo, complete with paintings, flowers, candles, and oyster soup — Kahlo’s favorite.
Vincent said students had fun with the project especially because it was a multi-age and cross-class project. “It was a nice avenue for kids to learn about their family and honor their family,” Vincent said.
Repurposing and recycling materials for the altars was also a creative segue into the Charter School’s “zero-waste week,” which began this week. Students focus on limiting waste and learning about recycling, repurposing, and reusing materials. In the school’s hallway are idea boards made from repurposed materials.
Science teacher Casey Hayward told The Times she is working with students to help brainstorm designs for seashell-resistant solar panels. Buildings near the water often have trouble adding solar panels to their roofs because seagulls will drop seashells on them and crack them.
Charter School director Pete Steedman told The Times the project happened organically. Vincent and Dryfoos were looking for ways to enhance students’ learning. “Our kids embraced the challenge by creating Día de los Muertos boxes that are creative, meaningful, and aesthetically stunning,” Steedman said.