Benjamin Russell seniors remembered the dead Tuesday. The dead, however, were dolls they created in teacher Emily Sassano’s Advanced Placement biology class for Dia de los Muertos. 

 “(My doll’s) name is Francesca and she was a school teacher,” Katie Still said. “She loves kids. She adopted kids and all that kind of stuff. She enjoyed being around children but unfortunately medical history ran in her family and she died of a massive heart attack.”

The seniors learned about water potential using apples they cut holes into. Water potential is about how water moves in the body and what cells do when they have too much or not enough water.

After the apples dried out and shrunk, the students decorated them and used them as doll heads for Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, and held presentations for their dolls. Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday celebrated Oct. 31 through Nov. 2 to remember those who have died.

“In American culture we kind of mourn the dead,” Andrew Caldwell said. “We go to funerals and we wear black, but in Mexican culture what they do is they paint their faces, they paint other things, make altars and make big beautiful things to celebrate the life of those who passed away.”

Caldwell remembered his doll Juan, who was a soccer player who signed a deal with Manchester United but unfortunately died not long after.

“What I’m doing is celebrating Juan, celebrating that deal he got from Manchester United and he was about to go play big-time soccer, but now he’s tragically passed away,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell said the day is way to enjoy what they’re learning and he and classmates love it.

“We did it last year in anatomy in 11th grade but this is a completely different view on it,” Caldwell said. “Last year it was geared toward skulls and learning about the bones and stuff like that, but this year it’s geared toward biology, so we learned about water movement and things like that.”

This presentation is typically every November for Sassano’s classes. She incorporates other cultures and lessons to her science classes regularly with her Day of the Dead lesson being the most popular.

Sassano started having her biology students celebrate Day of the Dead about eight years ago. Her anatomy class learned the bones of the cranium by painting sugar skulls on themselves and figures.

“I crossed this over into all my other classes and they love it,” Sassano said. “They get up early. A lot of parents tell me that they’re excited to come to school, which for a high school senior can be an unmotivated kind of thing but they look forward to doing these projects. They like the art, they like the creativity of it and I like to tie that into my content.”

Sassano said she enjoys incorporating cross-cultural and cross-curricular concepts into her classes. She also brings in various cultures, ideals, religious beliefs, traditions and customs.

“I also like to bring the real world in because it doesn’t make sense to them unless you can tie it to their real life,” Sassano said. “I also like to incorporate minority viewpoints because we live in a community that is predominantly white Protestant Christian.”

The celebration is one of the students’ favorite projects in Sassano’s class.

“The skeleton is a huge part of Day of the Dead,” Still said. “It can represent luck, but they paint their faces because they believe their families come back in skeleton form and they don’t want to scare anyone off they want them to feel welcome.”

Caldwell said it took about two weeks to prepare for the Day of the Dead celebration to learn about water potential then Dia de los Muertos. 

Students came up with creative back stories for their dolls. Lane Rigby said his doll, Juandissimo, was an Olympic swimmer who died in a car crash and Rachel Sanford said her doll, Inigo Montoya, was an artist who dated Captain America.

David Lewis said his doll, Kemal, died while traveling from Turkey.

“(Kemal) also has relatives in Chihuahua (Mexico) so they remember him for this Hispanic holiday,” Lewis said.