A fifth-grade project at Smithton Middle School has turned into a cross-curricular lesson on Mexican culture and honoring loved ones who have died.

Dia De Los Muertos or Day of The Dead is a holiday celebrated annually in Mexico on Nov. 2. The day is meant to honor and celebrate loved ones who have died, according to art instructor Amanda Trelow.  

Cindy Thompson's class, as well as the other fifth graders, are working on a project about Day of the Dead, Trelow explained before her fifth-grade art students arrived in her classroom Thursday afternoon.  

To support the work of Thompson, Trelow developed an art project for her students asking them to create masks similar to those traditionally worn by Mexicans to observe the holiday.

“At first the students think it is a Halloween project, but we watch a couple informative videos about the holiday and they learn that it is a celebration filled with joy and bright colors,” Trelow said. “One of the kids in class came up to me and told me that he is really glad we were doing this because he just lost his grandma and was going to do his artwork in honor of her.”

The project takes three weeks to complete.

“The first day is spent watching the videos and talking about what people around the world, including our own culture, do to honor the lives of those that are loved,” Trelow explained. “Trying to draw the skulls isn't easy, but this year’s are the best ones yet.”

Students are first given a blank sheet of paper and are asked to sketch the image of a skull and spine. Trelow projects an image on a smartboard to prompt her students but each image must be hand-drawn, meaning no two are the same.

By allowing her students the freedom to create and not simply use a pre-drawn image the students have a greater sense of ownership in the project. This allows it to become more meaningful and unique.

Thursday’s lesson included finishing their initial drawings. 

“They took the time to really make their drawing their own by adding details common to the holiday such as flowers and other embellishments,” Trelow commented while the students were working.

Trelow provided the students a resource sheet filled with images historically used to decorate the masks. She explained some of the options the students could use when making their masks, telling them they could cut out portions of their masks such as the sockets for the eyes. She added those steps needed to be considered before they began decorating the masks.

During the final week of the project, the students will cut out the masks and complete the finishing designs.

Trelow said she enjoys the project because it allows her the opportunity to do cross-curricular teaching while allowing the students another opportunity to express themselves through art.

“The students like the projects because they get to make so many choices about their work and because the artwork is meaningful,” Trelow said.

Education Reporter

Hope Lecchi is the education reporter for the Democrat, covering all things education in Sedalia and Pettis County, as well as providing general assignment and feature coverage. She can be reached at 660-530-0144.

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