Several years ago in this space, I wrote about how joy – forever present at Lake Tahoe School – manifests itself in areas not always associated with the term – such as our annual celebration of Día de los Muertos. While it may be challenging to place the word “joy” in tandem with a holiday that celebrates the dead, just the opposite is true. In fact, at Lake Tahoe School, we make it a point to teach the reasons and understanding for joy and celebration of the lives of those no longer with us. From relatives to friends and everyone in between, students are taught in their Spanish classes the practice of honoring and respecting the legacy and memory of these same people. Rather than mourn, the day is one to celebrate, and better yet, share the stories of those who meant so much to us.

Nothing signifies more Lake Tahoe School’s celebration and understanding of Día De Los Muertos than the ofrenda – or altar – set up each year in our main lobby. Overflowing with photos, objects, and other memories of our school community’s loved ones, its presence perfectly illustrates our commitment to helping our students understand different cultures while linking them to their own experiences as well. Parents, visitors, students, and staff alike spend a great deal of time admiring and deciphering the various presentations and items offered. Some have even asked if we can leave it up for several more weeks – though I suspect the two skeletons borrowed from the science room and appropriately decorated for the holiday may need to return to their current home soon.

This year’s Día de los Muertos all-school assembly included a now staple element of our celebration – a student-made slide show honoring friends or relatives no longer with them. Focusing their cameras on the simple elements of their own individual ofrendas, each seventh grade student introduced and narrated their celebrant’s story. Most importantly, their stories were personal, poignant, and incredibly meaningful – both to themselves and to all of us in the audience. With stories of great grandparents who were Holocaust survivors to the tales of how their honoree impacted their lives to ofrenda items that included samples of the person’s favorite candy bar – each vignette made us feel as if we, too, knew their lost loved one.

Learning and understanding, joy, and celebration all combined this past week to educate our entire Lake Tahoe School community – including the packed audience in Duffield Hall. Whether for Día de los Muertos or other topics and holidays, the joy of learning is always present at Lake Tahoe School.