Ellis Island comes to Sand Creek Elementary School

Clutching passports and carrying suitcases, 19th century immigrants trudge toward the HMS Campania, a giant sailing vessel that will carry them on a three-week journey across the sea to a new land filled with hope and a promising new life – the United States of America.

This immigrant, TJ Scott, fell on a box and got a black eye, prompting immigration officials to attach the letter “E” to his shoulder, indicating that there is something wrong with his eye and he must endure further investigation.Photo by Sue Austreng
This immigrant, TJ Scott, fell on a box and got a black eye, prompting immigration officials to attach the letter “E” to his shoulder, indicating that there is something wrong with his eye and he must endure further investigation.Photo by Sue Austreng

The immigrants in this scene are actually Sand Creek Elementary School fourth-graders experiencing the challenges, the sacrifice and the fear so many of their forefathers endured as they left their home countries during the 19th century.

The Ellis Island simulation served as a climactic end to the students’ two-week unit studying the northeast region of the United States.

“They’re never going to forget this experience. They’ve read the stories, they’ve watched the videos, but living it like this … they will never forget this,” said Amy Sundem, a Sand Creek fourth-grade teacher, who hopes to get the unit incorporated into all District 11 elementary schools’ fourth-grade curriculum.

When students arrived at school Dec. 20, they were given a passport and a suitcase, then sent to the gymnasium-turned-Campania sailing ship.

There, teachers posing as immigration agents examined their passports, demanding to know their full names, their country of origin and why they were coming to America.

Then students took their seats in first class, sat on the floor directly behind in second class, or huddled together on the floor in the rear as third-class passengers.

First-class passengers were served simple food and beverages, while the others’ stomachs rumbled and growled with hunger.

Soon, the lights went out and the sickening sounds of babies crying, people vomiting and children screaming filled the air as Hollywood sound effects gave the impression winds were blowing, seas were rocking and the Campania was breaking through rolling waves.

Finally, the Statue of Liberty was in sight and laughter and cheer filled the air.

Next, students made their way from the gymnasium through Sand Creek hallways to one of four stations: the medical center, the information center, the baggage center or the deportation center.

Each station presented another lesson, another vicarious experience sure to fix itself in students’ minds as they learned about immigrating to America.

“I know my dad’s grandpa came here from Germany, but I never knew what it was like, what he had to go through to get here. I’m glad he did though,” one fourth-grader said as he left the deportation room.

“This really makes the lesson real, letting the kids live it, not just read about it,” said Sundem.

 Teachers posing as immigration station agents check students’ passports before the immigrants can proceed to boarding the Campania for the voyage to America. Students seated in first class aboard the Campania are served simple food, to which some respond with displeasure on tasting it. In the medical examination room, immigrants present passports, then line up for eye exams, physical fitness tests and questions about their current and past health conditions. A third-class immigrant is told to cover one of his eyes and then read the smallest line of letters on the board mounted on the board six feet away. A deportation agent keeps a close eye on immigrants completing necessary forms before they are deported back to their European and Asian home countries. Hannah Belka and her baby will be deported because they have no money. Emily Griffin, immigrating to the United States from China, endures intense interrogation and her luggage is inspected in the baggage room.
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In the medical examination room, immigrants present passports, then line up for eye exams, physical fitness tests and questions about their current and past health conditions.

 

 

Sue Austreng is at [email protected]