In November 2004, J.L. Boren Elementary was awarded a grant from the Mansfield Education Foundation entitled “Different Sizes of Disguises”. The grant author was Spanish teacher Denise Gunnip. The objective of Mrs. Gunnip’s grant application was to teach cultural diversity to Boren students through the tools of mask- and puppet-making during Spanish and art enrichment classes. By following guidelines in George Ancona’s book The Piñata Maker, Boren fourth grade students constructed life-sized, papier-mâché basket puppets. Those puppets are still used for dances during Boren’s Hispanic Heritage celebration held each May.
This campus celebration began as a PTA/Cinco de Mayo event five years ago and has since evolved into a global celebration of Hispanic culture through song, dance and art activities. Under Mrs. Gunnip’s guidance, students in Spanish and art enrichment classes in spring 2005 also applied Ancona’s techniques to piñata-making. This activity resulted in each Boren class creating its own class piñata. These piñatas were then hung from the ceiling of the Boren cafeteria and sold in a silent auction during that first PTA/Hispanic Heritage celebration. Proceeds from the piñata sale each year now provide the funds necessary to hold the Hispanic Heritage Night the following year.
For the 2007-2008 celebration, third and fourth grade classes developed their piñata ideas by studying the native folktales from Central and South America and woodcarving from Oaxaca, Mexico. Students in Mrs. Gunnip’s Spanish class explored the oral tradition of folktales in ancient culture from María Cristina Brusca’s When Jaguars Ate the Moon. With this background, students in Boren art teacher Kay Verville’s classes then drew sketches of the characters from these folktales. The sketches were used to design and construct each class piñata during Spanish classes. Functional papier-mâché, form, and construction were the focus of Mrs. Gunnip’s study. Completed blank piñatas were taken to the art room for decoration and completion. Mrs. Verville had her students apply base colors to the piñatas using tissue paper and glue. Her classes then studied the intricate designs and details that are the hallmark of Oaxacan woodcarvings or “alebrijes”. Using acrylic paint pens, Mrs. Verville’s students created line and shape patterns of rich contrasting colors on the bodies of the piñata forms. Repetition and contrast were the focus of this aspect of her students’ studies.
The students’ elaborate piñatas can be seen hanging in the Boren cafeteria until the evening of May 6 when they will be sold at silent auction. Proceeds from past auctions have been used to create the large pole puppets that third grade students will dance with this year and to fund additional support materials for Spanish and art classes to further their cultural studies. After the basket puppets are put away and the music fades we will remember the tales of long ago that inspired piñatas about a time, “When Jaguars Ate the Moon”.
With thanks and gratitude J.L. Boren acknowledges the Mansfield Education Foundation’s efforts to make great things happen in our classrooms.
J.L. Boren Elementary