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Day of the Dead holiday celebrated by Utica High AP Spanish Students
Day of the Dead holiday celebrated by Utica High AP Spanish Students
Posted on 11/08/2021
Students stand by their ofrenda work

Celebrated annually on Nov. 1 and 2, the Day of the Dead, or el Día de los Muertos, is a special holiday to honor and remember those who have passed. Observed by Mexicans and other Hispanic countries, Utica High School Spanish teacher, Dawn Anderson, felt the significance of the holiday was important for her AP Spanish students to experience for themselves. 

“For me, teaching Spanish is about so much more than just learning how to communicate in the language,” Anderson said. “It’s also about learning and understanding better the culture and traditions of the people who speak it.”

One important tradition of Day of the Dead is the ofrenda, or remembrance altar. To help her students better understand the holiday and the importance of the ofrenda, Anderson had students choose one famous deceased Hispanic person to create an ofrenda for in their honor. 

“The ofrenda had to have the traditional items, such as flowers, an arch, pictures, and candles, but also had to include six items that represented the person’s life and contributions to society,” Anderson said.

Students got into groups and worked on their ofrendas, creating remembrance altars for soccer players, artists, and musicians, among other Hispanic celebrities.

Utica senior, Sandra Yaldo, and her group chose to honor Selena Quintanilla, a Hispanic singer who died at the age of 23 in 1995.

“It’s better to do projects like this than just to learn about it,” said Yaldo. “The more we do and research, the better we understand it.”

“By doing a project like this one, students don’t just learn about the topic studied, they practice and experience it, as well,” said Anderson.

After learning about the holiday and the importance of marigolds as a flower of remembrance, one of Anderson’s students brought her a vase of marigolds in honor of her father who had passed away earlier this year.

Another student who Anderson hadn’t seen in 15 years, sent her a message showing the ofrenda the former student and her family made in honor of their family members who had passed this year.

Anderson said the former student thanked her for teaching about other cultures and helping her daughters feel comforted in their grief as they helped prepare their own ofrenda decorations.

“It’s experiences like these that show me how doing activities like this can make a lasting impression on students, even if a teacher doesn’t realize it at the time.”