A Día de los Muertos for the Digital Age

By Leslie Peña, Spanish Teacher

Growing up in México, I remember working on colorful altars adorned with picture frames, candles, incense, marigolds, food, and a flower petal path to lead the dead to their altar every early November in school. The best Day of the Dead celebrations and decorations I have encountered have been in México City. Women dress up as “Catrinas” with elaborate flower headbands, face paint and traditional Mexican dresses and there is always a beautiful parade. Every store, restaurant, hotel and coffee shop has their own altar, each one uniquely vivid and ornate.

The day of the dead celebration dates back to the Aztecs, when it was believed that the deceased embarked on a journey, the destination the place where they could finally rest in peace. On November 1st and 2nd in México, cemeteries are filled with music, food, candles and flowers. It is not a sad time, but rather a celebration of life! People gather around their loved ones’ tombs and bring them their favorite food.

Every year at Grace, we try to bring a bit of México into our Spanish class, learning about the traditional Day of the Dead. In the past, students have made their own altars at home. We have also visited New York-based cultural non-profit Mano a Mano to view their altar and participate in their celebration at St. Mark’s Church, where they would learn the history and try authentic Méxican food.

As this year is unprecedented, we could not celebrate in our usual ways. Luckily, on Monday October 26, El Museo del Barrio offered a day of the dead bread cooking class over zoom through their new bilingual digital initiative El Museo en Tu Casa. This class was offered by one of my favorite Méxican chefs, Fany Gerson, who the 8th graders had the opportunity of meeting in 6th grade when we visited her Méxican dessert shop “La Newyorkina” for a Spanish class field trip where she talked to them about traditional Mexican ingredients and desserts.

Fany Gerson, has been featured in the New York Times, Food and Wine, Fine Cooking, Saveur Magazine, Fine Cooking, Fast Company and New York magazines, among others. She is the owner of La Newyorkina Mexican dessert shop in West Village. She has written three books, My Sweet Mexico, which was nominated for a James beard award 2010 for Best baking and pastry cookbook Paletas and Mexican Ice Cream. She was a mentor in the WE NYC Women’s leadership program in 2016 and recognized as a Latin woman leader in 2017 by El Diario.

As a tasty supplement to our cultural lessons, we also celebrated in Spanish class by tasting traditional Day of the Dead bread from authentic Méxican NYC bakeries Panaderia 2D and La NewYorkina.

There are many different traditional sweet breads made for this celebration. Some are sculpted into shapes of flowers, the Virgin Mary, skulls or animals. Some are topped with sesame seeds and colorful head figurines. Most have a sugar topping and are infused with orange.

The students learned how to make this bread decorated with “sugar bones” and took a moment to remember the life of those who are no lo no longer with us.

!Feliz Día de Muertos!

This Year, JK-4 Math is All Fun and Games

By Leah Silver, JK-4 Math Coordinator

The vibrancy of our Early Childhood and Lower School math program can be felt both in the classroom and on Zoom screens this year. JK through Grade 4 students are questioning, constructing, noticing, playing and practicing in different ways. In a year of so much change, I’ve found it helpful to articulate guiding principles for our program this year: prioritizing the use of real materials, centering the use of games, and trusting in the resilience of our students. 

Guiding Principle 1: Prioritizing real materials 
This year presents new challenges for using materials, but we know that students learn new math while getting the opportunity to construct new understandings for themselves. While digital manipulatives exist and are very useful, when students first learn a new concept they need to hold the materials in their hands. Every student in Early Childhood and Lower School–whether learning remotely or in person–received an individual math manipulatives kit with the key materials they will use over the course of the year. Depending on the age, these kits include unifix cubes, pattern blocks, beaded number racks, base ten manipulatives, game spinners and dice. This way, we can make sure everyone has access to the same materials in a safe and sanitary way, and every kid can easily take these home, should we have to all learn remotely. 

Ms. Malik leads our remote JK students through a pattern activity. Students use their Unifix Cubes to construct their own two-color patterns.
Our remote Kindergarten students explore different combinations of the number ‘5’ with Ms. Moller and Ms. Silver using their Five Frames and Unifix Cubes.

Guiding Principle 2: Games are at the Center
Games have always been at the center of our math program, and this year is no different (in that regard!). With our ongoing adoption of the Bridges in Mathematics program, we have access to incredible digital versions of the games our students love to play. These games are a crucial piece of our math program, encouraging strategy development, logical thinking, and further building of math concepts. 

Grade 3 students in Mr. Schneider’s class play ‘Carrot Grab’ in a breakout room. One student shares their screen so they can both use the same game board. This game encourages students to hop to a ‘friendly number’ when adding. You can play Carrot Grab here!

Guiding Principle 3: Trust in the resilience and mathematical capabilities of our students, and keep moving forward.
While we had to make curricular adaptations to accommodate our remote learning schedule last spring, our work at the beginning of the year with students confirmed what we knew to be true: our students learned a ton of math last year and were ready to hit the ground running with their current grade level’s curriculum. We took guidance from the Bridges program not to rewind to the previous year’s content, even though some lessons may have been missed or altered. Instead, we assess as we go and identify any areas we need to re-engage with our students in real time. 

Grade 4 students in Mr. Wanyoike’s class work on building the ‘Wall of Base Ten’ to visualize numbers up to 10,000.