Recent holiday experiences have been anything but ordinary for local students during their time away from school, but educators are attempting to adapt to the times and provide their kids with a sense of normalcy, all while spreading holiday cheer.

Santa Monica High School teacher Guadalupe Mireles-Toumayan has been hard at work in the Third Street Promenade since Dia de los Muertos, she joked earlier this month while she helped her students set up the Christmas decorations that now adorn a storefront in the popular shopping area.

“This year, due to the pandemic, my students were not going to be able to celebrate, and participate in any events. To my surprise – life works in mysterious ways – during our “Día de los Muertos” event, I met wonderful people from Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. They offered to help and provided a space for my students to continue with our yearly events,” Mireles-Toumayan said. Fifteen Christmas Trees were provided and students immediately went to work brainstorming themes for their event.

The scholars from Samohi clubs Latinx Leaders, Brown Minds Matter, Latinos Unidos, Brightly Boxed Buddies and MECHA decided to call their initiative “Nuestras Raíces Latinoamericanas,” and each club became responsible to represent a Latin-American country and decorating it accordingly, according to Mireles-Toumayan, who said she has kept her students busy with projects like this and the one she conducted for Dia de los Muertos because she knows how important it is for students to experience a sense of tradition and normalcy in times like these.

Like Mireles-Toumayan, the team at Elemental Music, a nonprofit that helps provide music instruction to students in Santa Monica, has also been hard at work organizing an “experience” of their own. The organization recently held its first ever in-home concert, which allowed many of its students on need-based scholarships to participate in a program at a time when music is more important than ever, according to Prelude Program Director Emily Call.

“Overall, we think our first ever virtual concert was a huge success. We had folks tuning in from all over the world — in places like Canada, England, Barbados — and the country to support our young musicians in Santa Monica,” Call said. “Ensembles have always been at the heart of what we do,” but when COVID hit, the group was forced to start planning for this season to start virtually.

“We regularly fill our halls with friends and family but we didn’t want for our students to miss out on that feeling of having a performance as a final product. We knew that we wanted the feeling of playing in a group setting to still be a part of our programming because part of the magic of learning and performing music with a large group is hearing how your sound combines with everyone else’s to create something so much larger than yourself,” Call added as she thanked the community’s parents for making the event possible. “One of the silver linings of going virtual – and a major highlight from this past weekend – was that we were able to have an international audience tuning in to support our young musicians here in Santa Monica. Friends and family were watching from places as far away as Canada, Barbados, and England. Yes, we had aunts and uncles streaming our concert at midnight from across the pond,” Call said, mentioning there were also folks tuning in from across the country.

To be able to share these virtual ensembles, with music learned entirely remotely over Zoom, showcases the talent, willpower, and dedication that our students put into their music – and the dedication of our teachers who work with them weekly. It’s a triumph to put together this music remotely and we are so proud,” Call added, stating: “It was heartwarming to see so many people jump at the chance to be a part of this special moment for our young musicians. We hope that our virtual concert was able to provide a little bit of joy and togetherness for many families who can’t be together right now.”

Mireles-Toumayan agreed that it’s important for teachers and parents to find ways to keep kids engaged, especially with more restrictions on the way in the coming days. She also encouraged locals to head down to the Promenade to view the efforts of the local high-schoolers, which will be on display from now until the end of the month.

“My students felt it was an opportunity to have a voice and embrace their culture with pride. They learned the importance of empathy and dedication,” the doctora said. “They also shared their awareness of the importance of diversity and the richness of each culture.”