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A rainbow of colors and glitter danced across the playground at Paxson Elementary School on Friday morning, as giant orbs fluttering with fringe helped create an impromptu Day of the Dead procession.

The parade was a mix of first-graders from Paxson and eighth-graders from the Meadow Hill Middle School Spanish classes, proudly displaying the “barriletes” (large doughnut kites) they made together.

“We just thought it’d be really cool to help the kids make the kites,” said McKenna Stricker, an eighth-grader who has studied Spanish since sixth grade.

With the help of Stricker and eighth-grader Riley Elliott, first-graders Aluna Baquero-Gutzner, Pete Wilcox and Lake Litten designed and assembled quite a kite.

An azul (blue) border with a rojo (red) heart and amarillo (yellow) circle pattern surrounded a huge flower with razado (pink) and morado (purple) petals, all surrounding an amarillo center.

“I did a lot of the circle and squares,” Wilcox said.

The “barriletes,” made of tissue paper and bamboo poles, are traditionally made in Guatemala for Day of the Dead celebrations. Kites are vibrant in color and can have a wide variety of designs. “Barriletes gigantes” are sometimes upward of 100 feet tall, said Kim Olson, a Meadow Hill Spanish teacher who organized the project.

The barriletes made by the students were 4 feet tall and doughnut-shaped.

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Many of the first-graders who helped make kites are taking part in Paxson’s Spanish immersion program, which began this year.

Teacher Ted Muhs speaks exclusively in Spanish. Students can interact and converse using English as they learn the language. Muhs hopes that after winter break, the class will be entirely Spanish speaking.

“That’s a very lofty goal,” he said.

The immersion program will expand each year by a grade, following students through school.

“Our goal is by (the time they leave elementary school) they’ll be quite highly proficient,” Muhs said.

The eighth-graders’ guidance and the fun project all helps build language skills.

“I believe the best way to learn a language is content,” Muhs said. “This makes it very relevant.”

The eighth-graders introduced the project to the first-graders during a skit presented in Spanish. As they worked on the kites, the groups practiced basic language skills and went over Spanish vocabulary words for shapes and colors.

“The eighth-graders have really been amazing,” Muhs said. “They’re just as excited about making the kites as the kids are.”

Eighth-grader Stricker said in some cases the first-graders spoke better Spanish then their older buddies.

But everyone had fun making the kites.

“It was really fun coming here and working with the first-graders. I think they had a lot of fun learning with this,” Stricker said.

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First-grader Baquero-Gutzner predicted that the flower kite her group made would fly.

“I think so, it’s pretty thin,” she said.

When it came time to launch after the parade on the playground, one kite’s flight was successful for a bit. Another didn’t quite get off the ground.

Many others were saved so they can make an appearance in the Day of the Dead Parade on Saturday, Nov. 2, in downtown Missoula.

Olson figures it will be a good addition.

“Not many people know about this (Day of the Dead) tradition. Most think of Mexico,” Olson said.

Muhs agreed.

“It’s a fun way to celebrate not only Day of the Dead, or Latin America,” he said, “but all Spanish culture.”

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Reporter Jenna Cederberg can be reached at 523-5241 or at jenna.cederberg@missoulian.com.

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