GOSHEN — In Goshen Middle School’s New Tech wing Monday, a handful of students sat on the floor. Their quiet focus was interrupted only by comments between group members or answers to questions about their current project — studying the Hispanic Day of the Dead holiday.

The sixth-graders have spent weeks preparing for their upcoming Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos in Spanish, celebration. On Nov. 2, the final day of Dia de los Muertos, the students and their teachers will open the school doors to the public. Through cultural exhibits, food and music, they will give their friends and family a peek into what they learned about Hispanic history and culture.

English teacher Jared Leaman explained that the project is a collaboration between three department teachers: himself, social studies teacher Krista Troyer and social studies teacher Christa Kauffman.

To show what they’ve learned, students have created ofrendas, Day of the Dead altars meant to honor someone who has passed on to the spiritual realm.

Leaman said, “The main part of this year’s project is using an ofrenda to be a visual biography. Students are researching and studying about a Hispanic figure who has made a positive impact on the world.”

The fact that some of the students’ ofrendas were accepted into a Dia de los Muertos exhibit for the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Arts and Culture is just icing on the cake.

Donika Berisha and Cory Webb are two students who were able to install thier ofrenda at Notre Dame.

Webb explained, “It was about Eva Perón. She was an actress and had a really positive impact because she was one of the first Hispanic actors.

Berisha added, “And she helped the poor.”

Leaman said that the “traditional approach” in Indiana has been to teach American history from a European point of view. He explained that teaching the early Mesoamerican culture “honors the great civilizations of that region” and communicates to students of diverse backgrounds that their heritage is valued.

Eleven-year-old Braxten Sheets said, “(Hispanic people) have helped with the U.S., and a lot of people that you’re going to know are going to be Hispanic.” He gestured across his circle of friends. “She’s my friend, and she’s Hispanic. It’s just another way to learn about history.”

Nuvia Menchaca and Jonathan Barahona said that they have participated in Dia de los Muertos celebrations at home. But it wasn’t until these past few weeks in school that they understood the history behind the holiday.

Menchaca said, “I celebrate my dad’s uncle who passed away in Mexico. … We have a mini garden, and we go pluck some flowers. We bring them in, and the guys construct some wood to make the ofrenda.” Learning about the holiday in school has helped her understand why she celebrates it, she explained.

Barahona described how, when his family celebrates Dia de los Muertos, they reminisce about loved ones who have died. But until recently, he didn’t know about the importance of the ofrenda.

Now that the ofrendas are built and the biographies are written, students are busy creating invitations for the Nov. 2 celebration. They are eager to celebrate with face paintings, piñatas, music and Mexican food.

“We’re putting together a showcase for the Day of the Dead. … It’s not just about the celebration and showcase (though). It’s about knowing why,” Webb said.

Leandra Beabout can be reached at leandra.beabout@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 314.

OPEN HOUSE

Goshen Middle School teachers and students will hold a Dia de los Muertos open house celebration Nov. 2 from 6:30-7 p.m. Student ofrendas can also be viewed at the Notre Dame Center for Arts and Culture Crossroads Gallery from now until Nov. 2.

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