Dia de los Muertos a Celebration of Life

Students Observe Holiday with Food, Face-painting and Flowers

Ada Vista Elementary kindergartners take to the hallways after coloring their masks

Schools throughout Kent ISD this week studied and celebrated Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a a Nov. 2  holiday to honor the dead that originated in Mexico and is recognized throughout Latin America. Here are some district highlights.

Lily Van carefully peels her piece of licorice to add to her cookie design, in Spanish Club celebrations at Kent City Elementary

Thornapple Kellogg

High school Spanish students immersed themselves in the mysticism of Dia de los Muertos, reminiscent of an otherworldly carnivale. At their fiesta for the dead, students bound together colorful marigolds; made an altar adorned with sugar skulls, skeletons, papel picados and flickering candles; and baked mounds of pan de muertos, or “dead bread.”

“The smell … attracts the spirits of their ancestors, and honors the dead who might show up,” said junior Caden Goudzwaard. “It’s not worshipping dead people, but honoring their lives.”

Ilana Delarosa led a face-painting session with half of her face painted to resemble a sugar skull.

“It’s a time for tamales and enchiladas and just being together,” said the 2017 Thornapple Kellogg graduate. “My family’s Mexican, so we know this celebration.”

Kelloggsville sophomore Jordan Poole sits for face-painting

Kent City

One of the four annual Spanish Club special events at Kent City Elementary is a party to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. The celebration on Thursday, hosted by Spanish teacher Lorin Sorenson, drew more than25 fourth- and fifth-graders. They watched a short video filmed in Mexico, making note of the colorful costumes and baskets of flowers adorning the women’s heads.

The students made masks resembling those used in traditional Dia de los Muertos celebrations, and frosted and decorated galletas, or cookies. They paid particular attention to the symmetry, or balance, an important trademark of Aztec culture.

At Kent City Elementary School, Rosa Maria carefully plans the design for her mask

Forest Hills Public Schools

Ada Vista Elementary kindergartners in Amanda Lowry’s class teamed up with Lisa Zuniga’s fourth-graders to learn about Dia de los Muertos. Older students helped the young ones — in their first year at the district’s Spanish immersion school — color traditional masks and learn new vocabulary words such as “las calaveras,” or skulls; and “los altares muertos,” multi-level altars covered with offerings to and favorite items of the deceased.

Kelloggsville junior Andrea Paniagua started the Latino Student Union last year to promote Hispanic culture

Kent Career Tech Center

At a Halloween luncheon catered by hospitality and culinary students for residents of Dean Lake Woods Condominiums, one aim was to capture a bit of the macabre of the American holiday, as well as the mystical and colorful fun inherent in Dia de los Muertos.

Festivities kicked off with a mixed green salad topped with spooky spider deviled eggs; followed by tombstone potatoes with cheddar crisp carved in headstones; heads of cauliflower that resembled hemorrhaging brains “bloody” with pureed beet sauce; and house-smoked and barbecued ribs fashioned into a skeleton. Petite Day of the Dead skull-cakes splashed with raspberry sauce amounted to a delicious homage to the tradition of adorning altars with ofrenda, or offerings, of sugar skulls.

“We like to go all out for our catering because we realize the importance of celebration food,” said Spencer Dewey, a 2017 Comstock Park High School graduate who is dually enrolled at Ferris State University.

Kelloggsville sophomore Brazil McCoy shows off her sugar skull face painting


The high school’s Latino Student Union spent lunch hour Thursday painting sugar skulls on friends’ faces. Though traditional sugar skulls are made of sugar cane, students wanted to adorn the flowery, feathery and beaded skeletons on their faces for Dia de los Muertos.

“It’s to honor the dead, your loved ones,” said junior Andrea Paniagua, who started the Latino Student Union last school year. “We like to promote and give people opportunities to learn about the Hispanic culture.”


National Geographic: Dia de los Muertos

Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. Besides covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network, she writes freelance for the travel industry. Read Erin's full bio


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