Chimacum students celebrate ‘Day of the Dead’

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 11/13/18

With the area’s history of agriculture, and his students’ love of eating, Chimacum High School Spanish teacher Reed Aubin saw an opportunity three years ago to connect his kids to another …

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Chimacum students celebrate ‘Day of the Dead’

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With the area’s history of agriculture, and his students’ love of eating, Chimacum High School Spanish teacher Reed Aubin saw an opportunity three years ago to connect his kids to another culture.

“I’d worked with a bilingual class when I taught school in Minnesota,” said Aubin, who devoted a unit to the Mexican “Day of the Dead” holiday from Oct. 29 through Nov. 2. “To enrich it, rather than just serving the meals, we grew corn and beans in the school garden as part of the project, and included hominy and pork as part of the chili stew, called pozole.”

Aubin emphasized the traditional process of creating the meal, which he said ties into Chimacum’s farming roots and connects his students to an authentic part of Latin American culture. He even coined the acronym TACO — Teaching Academics through Culinary Opportunities — to sum up his hands-on methods.

“We always try to include at least one special food come harvest time to make the experience richer for the kids,” Aubin said. “This is one of the more in-depth projects in my curriculum.”

The cooking included hominy cooked from scratch, as well as a vegetarian version, and it took the students all week to prepare in 55-minute increments, Aubin said.

Aubin touted locally sourced ingredients such as Egg and I Pork, plus radishes and cabbage from Red Dog Farm in Chimacum.

Aubin’s Spanish program works in collaboration with Greg Reed’s horticulture classes to grow the crops, and Gary Coyan’s culinary arts classes to manage the kitchen procedures.

The home-cooked meal is only one aspect of the unit. Aubin also invites his students to contribute photos and personal stories of loved ones who have passed away to an in-class “ofrenda,” a Mexican traditional shrine.

“Each student chooses an individual to honor, then writes an elegy, a brief statement about that person’s life, in Spanish, and listens to each other’s stories of their loved ones and heroes,” Aubin said. “Some students have strong emotional reactions.”

Aubin noted each year’s shrine often can include items that were cherished by students’ oved ones, and for those students who haven’t had any loved ones die recently, they can use photos of real-life people they admire who have passed away.

“We’ve got Abraham Lincoln and Bob Ross on our ofrenda,” Aubin said.

Aubin counted at least 65 students took part in his Day of the Dead celebrations this year between his three Spanish classes — this year marks the first that Chimacum High School has offered Spanish 3 — plus other students who were invited to take part.

On Nov. 2, the final day of the “Day of the Dead” celebration this year, Aubin’s class dealt with an unexpected power outage that forced them to cook pozole outside, but by the afternoon, the students returned to the fully powered in-class kitchen.

Chimacum High School seniors Polly Nole and Renee Woods are no longer in Aubin’s class, but they returned this year to see how his “Day of the Dead” unit had evolved since they were freshmen.

“Mr. Aubin is a really good teacher who allows students to learn in different ways other than just looking at things on a whiteboard,” Nole said. “We gained a lot of knowledge about a culture we’d never experienced firsthand before, and we were able to honor the important people in our lives who aren’t here anymore.”

Woods deemed Aubin’s unit one of the aspects of the Chimacum education experience that sets it apart from other school districts. 

Fellow Chimacum High School senior Maddie Dowling is enrolled in Aubin’s Spanish 3 class this year after she served as president of the Spanish Club last year.

“It’s much more fun to be speaking a language while outside in the garden, or cooking in the kitchen, than it is in the classroom,” Dowling said. “Not only are we learning and speaking the language day in and day out, we’ve been growing different crops to cook and eat. All of these foods contribute to our production of tacos, tamales and empanadas, but more specifically, to learning the craft of hand-making tortillas and salsa verde.”

Dowling contrasted America’s emphasis on briskly prepared meals with Spanish-speaking cultures’ relative willingness to devote more time to preparing their meals.

“Cooking meals that take hours, sometimes even days, truly promotes quality time spent with loved ones,” Dowling said. “Experiencing this firsthand, by making meals with my classmates of almost 13 years, has made my progress in learning this language very valuable and personal.”

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