|Friends' School's ofrenda|
While our Elementary Halloween parade on Thursday morning was a fun-filled celebration (check out the amazing photos on our Facebook page), there was another more respectful celebration happening at Friends’ this week - Día de los Muertos.
In typical American Halloween event festivities, death can be presented as scary or as something to be feared. But for the Day of the Dead, death - or at least the memories of those who have died - is something to be celebrated. Our Spanish and art teachers, Kelly Cramer Usubillaga and Rachel Relin have collaborated masterfully to create a rich, thoughtful curriculum unit around Día de los Muertos.
Rachel came to Friends’ nine years ago from Santa Fe where she worked in museum education, specializing in folk art as well as New Mexican culture. She immediately began connecting with our Spanish program on ways to integrate art with Spanish language and culture. In all her years here, Rachel has enjoyed teaming with Kelly more than in any other year. Rachel believes that Kelly’s overall zeal for teaching, combined with her excellent cultural understanding, has made all the difference.
Kelly’s passion for Latin American culture began with a year-long stay in southern Argentina. From there she traveled throughout Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia and Venezuela. She
studied in Venezuela and met her husband, Juan
Esteban. She has a Masters’ degree in Hispanic Linguistics from CU. Kelly
loves to speak Spanish at home with her 6-year-old son, Rohan.
|Kelly Cramer Usubillaga|
Kelly and Rachel integrate their areas of expertise in a powerful way at this time of year. Both teach about the significance of the Day of the Dead to their students, and the synchronicity between the Aztec and Spanish cultures.
Each elementary class has created meaningful art projects for the school’s ofrenda (altar),which is near the front desk. Students have been invited to bring in pictures or any other items to honor their family’s loved ones who have passed away. Art projects have included masks, jewelry, sugar skulls, skeleton boxes, votive candles, cempasúchil (marigolds in the Aztec tradition) and more.
Now that we have changed our schedule at Friends’ so that all of our students are in art class every week, it has been easy for all our students to be involved in this work.
Kelly incorporates many cultural themes into her Spanish language teaching. In the two months she has been at Friends’, she has become hugely impressed with the positive attitude among her students and colleagues, and our school’s openness to new ideas and cultures. She says that the response from the children to the new Spanish curriculum in which we have recently invested (Risas Y Sonrisas) is far better than she could have imagined.
Her students are fully engaged in Spanish – using everything from sign language, to music, and visual cues to learn. Kelly knows that the more senses she taps into with her teaching, the more the kids can integrate their learning and the quicker they learn the language.
By working in conjunction with Rachel to create an integrated unit of study that has so much meaning to our students, Kelly continues to grow our Spanish program where it is fast becoming a great strength of our elementary program.
While Kelly made a point to tell me how our kids’ buy-in and attitude towards her program has been “overwhelmingly positive”, I have great confidence in saying the feeling is mutual.
We are lucky to have two such dedicated and skilled teachers at Friends’ whose whole is even greater than the sum of their parts. Please stop by and visit the amazing ofrenda today. It is a masterpiece.
Post Script: completely coincidentally, after I finished writing this piece, just as I was getting ready to post to this Among Friends’ website, I was cc-ed on an email to Kelly from one of our first grade parents who wrote:
“I want to tell you how deeply you've made an impact on (my daughter) and her Spanish language skills. I am amazed with the vocabulary, songs and activities she shares with us at home. I think you have captured her attention and her heart! Thank you for all you do!”