An immersive lesson at Hickory Hill

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Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2013 12:00 am

Third-graders at Hickory Hill Elementary School spent their Friday morning packed into a conference room dressed as immigrants carrying backpacks, lunch boxes and suitcases as part of an immigration simulation.

The conference room served as a boat taking them to Ellis Island.

Six students were in first class, sitting in chairs. The rest of the grade stood packed in the back of the room as steerage.

Elaina Gjersvick, 8, rode to Ellis Island in steerage.

“It was really crowded and really hot,” Elaina said.

From the “boat,” the students moved onto five stations at Ellis Island — information, medical, interviews, passports and baggage — where parents acted as inspectors.

Students filled out paperwork listing why they wanted to come to America. Inspectors verified their passport information and interviewed them. They also had their baggage inspected and underwent medical inspections.

The Hickory Hill students spent about six weeks studying immigration and how life changes when people move from place to place, said teacher Shelley Kramer. Each student created a personal story about an immigrant.

The third-graders selected a name and wrote journal entries about leaving their country, the ride to America and Ellis Island, Kramer said.

Students had to use the stories they prepared at each station.

Elaina told inspectors she was coming from Nepal in 1925. Her reason for coming to the United States was to see her parents. She planned on making a living by sewing.

All third grade students in the district study immigration and conduct similar events to bring immigration to life.

Other schools, such as Portal Elementary School, host immigration wax museums. There, students dressed as immigrants and shared their stories with “museum guests.”

Students look forward to the simulation from the start of the immigration unit.

“I've had moms say, 'I wish they were always this excited to go to school,' ” Kramer said.

Just like real immigrants, some make it into the United States and some don't.

Elaina was one of five deported students.

Hunter Jones, 8, wasn't sure if he would make it through Ellis Island.

“I lost my ticket,” Hunter said.

Like Elaina, he rode in steerage. He was coming from Turkey to make money by playing baseball. His favorite part was getting to dress up as an immigrant.

Many students complained about carrying so many bags, Kramer said. But that was part of the experience.

“We want them to know what it really feels like,” she said.

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