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School honors COVID-19 deaths with an altar for Dia De Los Muertos

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SALINAS, Calif. (KION) Fremont Elementary remembers and celebrates their loved ones lost due to COVID-19 for Dia De Los Muertos.

“All the families here and many kids have gone through a lot of pain and loss," said Kindergarten teacher Ms. Garcia. "I think it's going to be important for them to see that once one person is gone, they're still living. “

Every year, students and teachers at Fremont Elementary in Salinas put together an altar to remember and celebrate loved ones lost for Dia De Los Muertos. It was important to acknowledge the culture of many of the students, teachers said.

"Time for them to really realize what they've gone through," said TK teacher, Ms. Vasquez. "It's something that will be in history, and they'll learn about it, and they've lived through it. So it was just the opportunity to talk about death, which has been a big topic, and having something beautiful come out of it.”

But this year, the altar included hundreds of butterflies representing the number of deaths in Monterey County due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"It was easy to just kind of distribute butterflies and give each student the opportunity to write something about COVID," said Ms. Vasquez. "Or, write about someone that they knew."

Students in every grade level got a different project to work on from painting skeletons to even creating their own mini altar in memory of their loved one lost. The altar also included a principal and two teachers who previously worked at the elementary school and for many students, it was a very special moment.

“We have a family they just lost a parent, three students in this school," said Ms. Garcia.

However, these teachers said this moment was also an opportunity for students to learn about their family’s history and culture with their parents.

“Like grandparents, maybe great grandparents, because it's important to know where you're coming from," said Ms. Garcia. "Also, be thankful for what people before you did for you because we are where we are because of people before us."

Teachers tell me it was important to have a special moment for students to reflect on what they experienced because of COVID. But to also turn a sad moment into a happy memory by celebrating their loved ones lost. 

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Jonathan Sarabia

Jonathan is a multi-media journalist at KION News Channel 5/46.

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