Welcome to the New World

Students simulate coming to America through Ellis Island

Ryliegh Kerkstra gets questioned by customs official teacher Sheri Adams for the odd 'chemical' in her backpack

At the Ellis Island inspection station, fourth grade teacher Sheri Adams looked quizzically at the small transparent bottle she found in student Ryliegh Kerkstra’s suitcase. “This looks to me like a chemical, a chemical I never saw in 1910.”

With luggage in tow, Ryliegh trudged over to the deportation station to forfeit the “chemical” (hand sanitizer), adding it to a table of things not allowed to pass through customs in the New World. “I have to repack or go back to England,” Ryliegh said.

Parent Joshua Wilson shows Peyton Phillips how to fill out paperwork

Brooklyn Onstott, who played a French immigrant, faced a similar plight after struggling to answer interview questions. 

“They deported you for behavior,” Adams explained, before turning back to Brooklyn: “If you get deported for behavior twice you will be on a trip back to France.” Brooklyn returned to the interview station, where she said she planned to work in a store and came to the U.S. for a better job.

Oriole Park students learned about the journey of an immigrant to the U.S. in the early 1900s, when many people arrived from Europe, greeted by the image of the Statue of Liberty on the horizon. Through Ellis Island, 12 million immigrants entered the U.S. from 1892 to 1954.

Students began the voyage in an imaginary boat, steered by fourth grade teacher Ginger Vander Beek, who played captain in her classroom.

Chloe Morehart makes it through customs, smiling as she waits for a ferry

During the simulation, with parents and Principal Kristen Fuss acting as customs officers in the gymnasium, students moved from station to station where they answered questions, went through a medical check and had their baggage inspected.

“Everything was different and crazy and people didn’t really know what was going on,” said Chloe Morehart, who played an Asian immigrant, about what Ellis Island was like.

Added Bristol Kennedy, who played an English immigrant: “It was super crowded because everyone wanted to come to the New World.”

Adams and Vander Beek teach the simulation as part of a unit on human interaction and movement including migration and immigration. “Some of the students are immigrants so they realize this is not the current way immigrantion happens, but many students don’t have a picture of the past, so this is like living history for them,” Adams said.

Students also studied Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and the words on its plaque and their importance.

Students wait for the ferry to the mainland after passing through Ellis Island
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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