Copperas Cove Junior High Spanish teacher Cediangelis De Leon Martinez is new to Cove — and so are her methods.

But her students are enjoying her unconventional approach to teaching and are rapidly learning the foreign language that is the most popular in the United States.

De Leon Martinez teaches both Spanish 1 and 2 classes and believes it is important for her students to understand the Spanish culture, not just speak the language. She shared lessons about Dia De Los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead, and all the customs the holiday involves.

“With parent permission, each student personally selected someone to make a paper altar to. They were to research their person and memorialize them on their paper altar. Pictures of the person and pastries, tokens and pictures of things the person was involved in or interested in were pasted on the paper altar,” De Leon Martinez said. “This was to symbolize the time and effort that those who make real life altars put into it.

Many in Mexico make very extravagant altars for those who have passed away. It is a way to honor and respect those who have come before them.”

By studying the Day of the Dead, students gained an understanding that various cultures have differing views of life and death. Students learned death in some cultures is not seen as the end of one’s life. Those who have died are still celebrated and honored each year. By remembering loved ones, who they were and the values they instilled, generations to come can honor those who paved the path before them.

As part of the learning process, students volunteered to take part in their own Dia De Los Muertos celebration. With parental permission, students were asked to bring foods and drinks including bunelos, tortilla chips, salsa, guacamole, and sugar skull cookies that are eaten during the Dia De Los Muertos celebration. Students were given paper sugar skulls to color and decorate the classroom door and the opportunity to memorialize those who had died in their own families by writing those names on the skulls.

Student Annalynn Barnicoat said while the Day of the Dead is about remembering lost loved ones, the holiday is more a time to celebrate their memories than to mourn their loss.

“Dia De Los Muetos is honoring the dead and keeping memories of those who have passed on. It’s a whole bunch of love for everyone,” she said. “It is a very fun time.”

While Halloween and Day of the Dead do share common roots, they are totally different holidays. The Day of the Dead is largely about laughing in the face of death, as represented by the ubiquitous skulls and skeletons known as calaveras and catrinas, which are often depicted dancing or playing music.

Student Levi Gay enjoyed the entire celebration.

“My favorite part was the food,” he said. “I loved that the people dressed up just like we dress up for Halloween.”

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