Discovering the Power of Story: El Dorado Community School

Capturing the El Otro Lado experience in the schools can be difficult. An emerging experience that grows over the course of the school year, it is individual and yet, it is universal. Every one comes to the classroom with their own stories, but as the teachers, teaching artists, and young minds deepen their understanding of themselves and explore their sense of belonging, a community is formed.

We asked each of this years’ Teaching Artists to reflect on the first semester in EOL and their words were shared with students, families, and the school community. Now we would like to share them with you.

Death and Identity, Exploring Día de los Muertos

In the weeks prior to Halloween, Laura Cullen’s fifth grade classroom at El Dorado Community School studied the Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos. A table at the front of the classroom has been transformed into an ofrenda and holds objects and photos brought in by the students that symbolize a loved one: pet, family member, or in some instances, a dream that has died.

The sharing and discussion around these significant objects was similar to El Otro Lado’s “Touchstone” activity. We talked about honoring our loved ones who have passed by what we were preparing to share. One by one each student spoke of their object and the meaning it held. The feeling of community and respect in the room was palpable.

When we finished sharing, students went back to their desks and wrote a short story imagining that their objects had supernatural powers. We gathered in circle again and shared fantastic stories of jewelry that can make you fly, dogs that can make anyone who touched them happy, food that gives you great strength and courage, and parting words that can heal.

Loss is a part of identity, and acknowledging it within the safety of a community is a good reminder that it is a common experience we all suffer or will suffer at some point in our lives. The exercise of infusing our loss with the ability to transform emotional pain is also poignant in that it helps to acknowledge that there is power in love and memory. The students as well as Laura and I deepened our connection with one other during this exploration and discovered that death does not need to be a taboo subject in schools and may in fact, give children the much needed skills of expression of difficult emotion and the ability to provide, as well as ask for, support.

Stella Reed
Teaching Artist