Fifth graders at Morningside Elementary School participated in an Ellis Island Immigration Simulation on January 9th, 2013. As 5th graders learn about the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, they begin to correlate their history lessons with their own great-grandparents’ and grandparents’ experiences. Thus, history becomes more “real” to them. A poll taken by the students found that nearly 60% of them had family members who immigrated to the United States within the last three generations.
Prior to the simulation, students read a nonfiction book, “Immigrant Kids” by Russell Freedman, and created projects on a country of their own ancestry. Each student received an immigrant identity to role-play for the simulation and were required to create a nametag and a costume to portray that character. Students also wrote a letter as their character to a fictitious relative who was living in America. The letter expressed possible questions, fears, hopes, and dreams of their characters. During the simulation, selected students played the role of processors and received training on how to question the immigrants and complete the required paperwork. Several processors acted as appeals judges who had to make decisions regarding deportation. All immigrants who “passed” the immigration process recited a loyalty oath and were welcomed to America! The students thoroughly enjoyed this experience and many parents joined to witness the simulation.
The purpose of this activity is for students to experience what it may have been like for an immigrant to leave their home country and move to America with great hopes and dreams of a new life. The experience of fear and apprehension, while being processed through Ellis Island, helps students develop empathy and connects them with the experiences of their own ancestors. Every year, we have students who discover that their own grandparents or great-grandparents came through Ellis Island, and students even bring in photos and ship’s manifestos to share with the class. The simulation is a powerful culminating activity that often evokes emotion and leaves an impression.
“I thoroughly enjoyed watching the immigration event yesterday,” says Ginger Ross, a parent at Morningside. “It brought tears to my eyes to think of my own relatives’ experience. It has forced us to talk about these things as a family.”
Next week, Atlanta Immigration Attorney Eileen Scofield is presenting to the students about immigration and citizenship. Students will also examine “10 Immigration Myths” in an activity provided by Teaching Tolerance.