Holiday project celebrates lives
by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Skeletons and skulls lined the hallways of Holy Name School here recently, but the brightly colored figures were no Halloween decorations.
“We’ve been learning about Day of the Dead,” explained Emilio Ojeda, a third-grader at Holy Name.
Under the direction of art teachers Kathleen Wendland and Ada Koch, kindergartners through eighth-graders created a colorful array of projects to decorate the halls and an altar for the Day of the Dead.
“El Dia de los Muertos” is celebrated in Mexico from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, and marks a time to pray, remember and celebrate the lives of loved ones who have died.
Students at Holy Name learned about the meaning of the Day of the Dead and, at the same time, picked up new artistic techniques.
Emilio’s class learned about symmetry as the students designed bright butterflies.
“When you cut it [in half], it’s the same,” he said.
The classes that created butterflies worked on collage, watercolor and more, but also learned a spiritual lesson.
“Our focus has been that the Day of the Dead reminds us that our loved ones have left their earthly bodies and are now in the presence of God, in heaven,” said Wendland.
So some of the grades studied how the winged creatures first lived as caterpillars, then entered cocoons, before finally emerging as beautiful butterflies.
“The butterflies represent the deceased who have left their bodies to be in heaven,” said Wendland.
Janessa Bejarano, an eighth-grader at Holy Name, was excited to study the Day of the Dead.
“That’s a very special day that’s celebrated in Mexico,” she said. “And it doesn’t matter what culture you’re from. Anyone’s welcome to celebrate it.”
Her class designed a multicolored mural of a skull that hung in the hall near the office.
They also designed skulls on red flags.
“At home we’ve always prayed and we’ve always gone to the cemetery to put flowers,” said Janessa.
Her family honors her great-grandmother Shirley Hill, who had been an important part of her life, as well as close family friends Raina Esparza and Dominic Palacio.
Students were invited to take pictures of their loved ones to school to place on the altar for the Day of the Dead.
“You also get to share — and other people get to share with you — the people who have been in your life,” said Janessa.
Through the many colorful projects, the teachers showed students this holiday isn’t a “macabre event,” said Koch.
It’s a time for memories and a celebration of lives.
The Day of the Dead projects tie in with the theme Koch and Wendland chose for students to study in art this year.
After exploring Asian art last school year, the teachers are now featuring North American art and artists, including local artists.
Students recently visited artist Tom Corbin’s studio in Kansas City, Kan., and learned about bronze sculpture.
Both Wendland and Koch work at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., as teachers in the Ford Learning Center.
They love sharing art with the students of Holy Name.
“For us, it’s more than learning how to cut, glue and color,” said Koch. “We want to show where art fits in.”
They hope the geographical theme — and even sometimes offering snacks from the regions they’re studying — can create lasting memories of a culture for the students.
Janessa enjoys studying the same theme as her sister who is in first grade — but through different types of projects tailored to the different grades.
The sisters talk at home about what they’re studying.
“We have two great teachers, and they’re always willing to help you and teach you,” said Janessa.
Learning to create skeletons for the Day of the Dead also gave the students a foundation for how to draw the human body.
The lessons keep him interested — especially the mystery projects.
“Mrs. Wendland — when we’re making stuff — doesn’t always tell us what it is until we’re done with it,” he said.
To the kids, art presents a way to express themselves.
“You know what it means, and it’s yours forever,” added Janessa. “You get to show your own unique way.”