For National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15), students at the Excel Academy of South Shore, part of the Chicago Public Schools’ Options Network, studied the contributions of Hispanic Americans to our culture and society. The month culminated with an assembly where students showcased what they learned about Hispanic culture throughout the month. The lively event included song and dance performances and presentations on notable persons, food and historical events.

“What a fantastic job students did in presenting various topics celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month,” said Principal Shani K. Hawkins, M.A. Ed. “They exceeded expectations and made us very proud.”

Additionally, Student Services Director Rosie Jones set up an ofrenda, (Spanish meaning “offering”), in the school for the first time this year. The colorful altar is usually placed in a home during the annual and traditional Mexican Día de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead”) celebration on November 1-2.

During morning townhouse, students learned the history and significance of the day, which began in the 1500s by the Aztecs to celebrate their ancestors. Also called All Souls’ Day or a family reunion, this is not a day of mourning, it is a celebration of life. “I am always looking for ways for our school to incorporate or create traditions that will allow us to be more inclusive and strengthen our culture,” said Jones. “Dia de los Muertos is a time to be reflective of the good memories, the things that made you laugh and feel good about your loved ones who have passed on.”

As a way to honor all those lost, students and staff placed names of their ancestors or short messages on a slip of paper and put them in the bowl as acknowledgment of their presence in their lives.

“I hope by recognizing the Day of the Dead, we will start a new tradition at our school, incorporate more Hispanic culture and help our students and staff to soothe their hearts during their rough times,” Jones said.