PESHTIGO—Peshtigo High School Spanish teachers Cindy Birch and Jackie Lemire are co-advisors for the Peshtigo Spanish Club, who have been working to adapt normal extracurricular activities to minimize Covid-19 risk while still providing experiences for students.
“We plan a trip to a Spanish speaking country every other year,” Birch said. “We have visited Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama in recent years. Our upcoming trip in June, 2021 is to visit Spain.
“For some students the trip just isn’t an option, but they love Spanish. Our club activities allow them many options to continue to explore and to grow. In the past we’ve had monthly meetings which included Spanish speaking game nights and viewing movies completely in Spanish. We even had a Zumba session with an instructor from Columbia who spoke Spanish for the whole session.”
Peshtigo senior Trinity Ries loves “to be part of something larger than myself. Covid may take away our group activities, but we still have individual activities that allow us a break from school’s chaotic schedule and have some fun.”
“We all have this language that ties us together,” said senior Maija Carriveau. Student Lucy Lemire adds, “Spanish Club gives us a window into other cultures. It gives us a greater ability to compare and observe differences and similarities between others and our lives in the United States.”
“This year has been challenging. We’ve had to make changes to keep kids involved,” Lemire emphasized, “We want students to make this club their own. This year the element of choice was key.”
Students have tried to organize one activity per month. Senior Lexi Kehoe said, “I love our monthly challenges. These activities ease the stress of schoolwork while still learning.”
The Peshtigo Spanish Club’s most recent event was for students to choose an activity to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Senior Salsabeel Salem explains, “Day of the Dead is a holiday filled with celebrations, parades, colorful ofrendas and loads of different foods. People are able to take such a sad topic as the passing of loved ones and remember them with joy, instead of sorrow.”
Freshman Christina Powers sees this holiday as “a day to not only honor those who have passed on, but also to celebrate their lives. I think that is amazing because it gives people the feeling that their loved ones are not gone, but are with them.”
The Day of the Dead, which is really two days, was November 1-2 this year. In Mexico and many cultures it’s a celebration to honor relatives who have passed away. Day of the Dead traditions date back to the time of the Aztecs. The first day is to celebrate the children and infants and the second day is to recognize and honor adults who have passed on.
Seniors Kehoe and Blake Sharkus chose to celebrate El Dia De Los Muertos by sculpting facial make-up to look like skeletons. They explained, “No matter how rich or poor you are, no matter the color of your skin, not matter what part of society you are part of, we all become unified as skeletons to celebrate the lives of the loved ones we have lost.”
“The make-up was so much fun,” said freshman Lucy Lemire. “The white base coat was the most stubborn part. It took three coats of face paint to really turn my face white, then when we tried to paint the other colors over it, it tended to smear off. This activity opened my eyes to how time consuming Day of the Dead preparations are. The meaning of the skeleton face, La Catrina as they call it, is that no matter your social class, in the end we are equals; we are all humans.”
Senior Emily Halfmann made Dead Bread, Pan de Muerto, which is a sweet bread with orange zest and anise flavoring. “It tasted good, but didn’t exactly look like the pictures. I got to combine two things I greatly enjoy, baking and learning about other cultures.”
Seniors Salem and Jade Allman were “over the moon excited” to recognize Day of the Dead by baking traditional Pabassinas cookies that turned out to be “absolutely delicious!” “We had fun baking the traditional recipe using great ingredients like walnuts and orange zest. We learned a lot about the traditional flavor profile as well as how Mexican people would put these cookies out to help the spirits of loved ones that passed find their way back home.”
Freshman Analisa Beaumont also baked the traditional sugar skull designed cookies. She added” I could bake with my friend, Sarah Beavers, and learn something new about a new culture at the same time.”
Powers made Mexican hot chocolate, which “was fun to make because it was much different than usual hot chocolate. This recipe calls for cayenne pepper, which gives Mexican hot chocolate more spice!”
Learning Spanish “opens up a whole new world of people you can communicate and connect with,” according to Sharkus.
Salem explains that learning Spanish doesn’t just help you to communicate with locals when traveling, but it “has helped me with Anatomy class to learn Latin roots with ease, due to my ability to recognize roots in both English and Spanish.”
Allman agreed, saying “not only do you learn a new language, but it strengthens your vocabulary and English speaking skills as well.”
Halfmann explains, “If you are able to speak someone’s native language, you can connect and learn from them on a more personal level. Learning other languages and cultures is key to understanding people and that we are not so very different.”.