Third Graders Recreate a Turn of the Century Ellis Island Experience
Third Graders at New Canaan Country School experienced what it might have been like to immigrate to America at the turn of the century. The hands-on learning simulation is part of the third grade’s cultural identity study on the “Peopling of America.”
Assigned various personas, such as a Greek Peddler, a French dressmaker and Polish sweatshop girl, students dressed in character and attempted to navigate their way through a re-created version of the famous Ellis Island inspection station. Faculty, acting as immigration officials and health inspectors, asked them some of the 29 questions typical of those posed to travelers of the period, such as “Who paid for your passage?” “What is the condition of your health?” and “Are you able to read and write?”
Many students quickly realized how chaotic and arbitrary the process might have seemed to those attempting it in real life. “We have to pass all these different tests to get through Ellis Island?” exclaimed third grader Cristiano Robertson of New Canaan.
Students have been studying how different groups came to America and contributed to the fabric of the nation. “This experience allows students to celebrate their cultural differences and to understand how our unique backgrounds and experiences contribute to our identity as Americans,” explained Third Grade Teacher Valerie Schirmer. Students explored these concepts through storytelling, poetry, interviews, artifacts analysis, field trips — including an upcoming trip to the actual Ellis Island Museum — and the reading of literature.
This year-long study focuses on themes of resilience, courage, respect and empathy.