March 20, 2018


Ancient history through the eyes of a skull

students hold up their sugar skulls

Dec. 21, 2017

"In my 20 years of teaching, this has to be one of the best partnerships that I have brought into my classroom to share someone else's talent with my students."

By teaming up with local tattoo artist Chad Foster, 5th-grade teacher Chris Danapilis brought to life for his students Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), an ancient Aztec celebration of the lives of those who are deceased. Foster, owner of  I & I Tattooing in Schenectady, taught Danapilis's class about Aztec sugar skulls and how to paint their images.

"I had such a great experience leading the class," Foster said. "The students were so well behaved and eager to take on the project. I was amazed at the encouragement they gave each other as opposed to criticism. I am definitely inspired by them."

"During the celebration of Dia de los Muertos, sugar skulls are often used to decorate the ofrendas (offerings), and they are exactly what their name describes, skull-shaped sugar," Danapilis said. "Traditional sugar skulls are made from a granulated white sugar mixture that is pressed into special skull molds."

The sugar mixture is allowed to dry and then the sugar skull is decorated with icing, feathers, colored foil and more. While the ingredients of sugar skulls are edible (with the exception of the non-edible decorations you may add) the skulls are generally used for decorative purposes. However, there are some small sugar skulls that are made with basic icing and are intended to be consumed.

"It was such a delight to watch my students interact with my friend, Mr. Foster, and bring to life their own creativity in their sugar skull paintings," said Danapilis.

Danapilis noted that Spaniards who invaded Mexico tried to eliminate the seemingly offensive Dia de los Muertos holiday with no success. Dia de los Muertos was eventually merged with the Catholic All-Saints Day and All-Souls Day on Nov. 1 and 2 in an effort to make the holiday more Christian.

5th grade students at DCS learn about complex societies including the Aztec, Inca and Mayan civilizations and their impact upon American history. After completing the unit, the students were able to compare and contrast the characteristics of these civilizations including government, religion, war and sacrifice, technology, writing and art, jobs, agriculture, transportation, cities and social ladder.

students paint sugar skulls          students paint sugar skulls and Chad Foster holds a painting


students and Chad Foster hold up sugar skull paintings          students paint sugar skulls


students hold up their sugar skull paintings          students hold up their sugar skull paintings