By Raiza Giorgi
The beats of the drums filled the gymnasium at Solvang Elementary School as dancers from the Mexican cultural group Danza Xochiquetzal performed for a packed audience during the fifth annual Dia de los Muertos event on Nov. 1.
“This event is about the community coming together and learning about the culture. Dia de los Muertos isn’t just a Mexican culture event, it’s also celebrated as Day of the Saints in Europe where people honor their ancestors,” said Claudia Guillen, director of English Learning Services at Solvang School.
Guillen and her team of mom volunteers started the Dia de los Muertos event because there wasn’t anything else locally for those who wanted to honor deceased loved ones. Students in all grade levels participate by coloring “Sugar Skulls” or calvaras, brightly colored skulls made of sugar or ceramic. Volunteers make tamales and raise money for the school.
“Parents come in and set up altars for their loved ones so they can come back across the bridge and visit,” Guillen said.
The Day of the Dead is celebrated Nov. 1 and 2, as a time to remember family and friends who have died. Altars are decorated with photos of the deceased, along with the sugar skulls, candles, marigolds and paper decorations. The Disney movie “Coco” gives a look into the traditions.
In the past several years the Dia de los Muertos event at Solvang has expanded to include honoring the students who pass their proficiency testing and are reclassified as bilingual. This year 30 students were reclassified.
“I got involved because I love celebrating our students who are working so hard and it’s important for kids to be bilingual. It helped me immensely overseas when I was stationed in Italy and Iraq,” said Ben Olmedo, a Solvang School Board member and a physician’s assistant at the Tribal Health Clinic on the Chumash Reservation. He served in the U.S. Army.
Solvang School is also the only school in the valley to have the Dual Language Immersion (DLI) Program which began this school year with the kindergarten class. Research has shown that early acquisition of a second language has many positive impacts, such as strengthening cognitive skills, increasing student ability to adapt to a variety of learning types, enhancing creativity and problem-solving skills, improving academic performance, and increasing scores on standardized tests.
“We feel it is important for our students to have every opportunity to succeed at a very high level. I am proud of all their accomplishments,” said Superintendent Steve Seaford.
Solvang uses a “90:10” model for DLI instruction, meaning 90 percent of the instruction is in Spanish and 10 percent in English during kindergarten. Two teachers are involved in the instruction of students, one for each language.
To learn more about the program and the school visit www.solvangschool.org.