Student Ethan Lopez created his altar to honor multiple family members

Rancho San Justo Middle School in Hollister put on its first Day of the Dead event Nov. 3, with roughly 70 people attending. In a joint effort between teachers Luiz Espinoza and Rosa Sanchez, the event included student produced alters, sugar skulls, cultural food, and workshops put on by students creating paper flowers and skeletons. Sanchez and Espinoza, explained students have been learning about the pre-Columbian tradition of Day of the Dead” and created related projects in class.

Lisa Jelinek, principal of Rancho San Justo explained that with Spanish being reintroduced into the curriculum this year, it was the perfect time to have the event. Jelinek said, “It’s awesome because it gives kids a chance to bring their culture and their heart. It lets us support it (their culture)”.

Susan Diaz, one of Espinoza’s students, said that celebrating Day of the Dead was important to, “remember our loved ones”. Diaz created a joint alter to celebrate the life of her former dog Chingo-blingo with her classmate Ailani Navarro whose great grandma and uncle were also represented. Navarro felt that creating an altar to honor the life of the dead represented outwardly that, “we celebrate them and still care about them”.

When walking through the event color and life could be found as the students were able to describe who was represented in their altars and what objects they had included. Parents in attendance were seen taking photographs and videos as students posed next to their finished works or were inside the classrooms participating in other Day of the Dead activities. Students work of painted sugar skulls could be see on display. Espinosa shared that 60 pounds of sugar was purchased to create the skulls that students decorated.

The evening also included a shared meal between students, their families, and the staff at the event. As found on the letter home to parents, “As a tradition, food is a very important element of the Day of the Dead. We are asking you to participate in our celebration by contributing your family’s favorite dish, be it a traditional Latino dish or other”.

With Spanish being reintroduced as an elective option this year, and the positive feedback from both students and families, there are hopes to keep this event going for years following. “We want this to be an annual event,” Jelinek stated. This sentiment was shared by Sanchez and Espinoza who hope to include more students in next year’s event.

There was also a Day of the Dead celebration in the cafeteria of San Benito High School in Hollister Saturday, Nov. 4, and R.O. Hardin Elementary School hosted on Friday, Nov. 3.