Ellis Island

The first week of December marked what has gained a reputation as the most memorable day of elementary school around here – Ellis Island Immigration Day.  The children spend their entire school day immersed in Ellis Island in a spectacular event.  The teachers and volunteers did an incredible job creating this experience for the students, and creatively teaching them about this time in America’s history by walking the walk.

I volunteered as a monitor.  I floated the halls and escorted immigrants to places like Special Inquiry, checked passports, kept the peace and intervened when issues arose at the checkpoints.  Even the volunteers dressed for the occasion.

The students assumed new identities for the day – John was Albert from Sweden.  He traveled with his two brothers.  They hoped to be farmers and came with quite a bit of money.  Their older brother was inheriting their family business in Sweden so they came in search of a better life in the United States.

Period dress was requested, no backpacks or modern day accouterments were allowed.  They could carry suitcases and pillowcases, handbags and baskets.

They made their way through multiple rooms, interviews, appointments and processes during the day.  Each was run by parent volunteers.

Holding
Baggage
Medical Exam

Legal Interview
IQ Test
Inquiry

Money Exchange
Employment
Postcards

After passing through all of the checkpoints, Albert was thrilled to receive his stamp of approval.

After a meager lunch, the lucky ones celebrated by Lady Liberty and the throwing of their caps!

Many were hassled, some were deported and most were welcomed into the United States.  Some families were separated, a few felt their treatment was unfair and ALL were moved by the experience.  It was a great day!

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PS. I know other schools do something similar and I have gotten a ton of questions about our outfits.  I had the plaid shirt and shawl.  John used the knickers from his Paul Revere costume, a black vest we had, and men’s tube socks (WalMart).  The other items are linked here:

Herringone Driving Cap  |  Plaid Scarf (black + red classic)  | Black Skirt  |  Paul Revere Costume

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11 thoughts on “Ellis Island

  1. My girls did this back when they were in elementary school. They put so much work into it prior to the day, with all the research and creating their books about their characters. They wrote journals about their travels. It was a great experience.
    For those looking for costumes on the cheap for something like this, most of the kids either borrowed from grandparents or shopped Goodwill.

  2. Wow, that is really neat. I sent Sophie’s teacher and principal a link to your blog. I’d love to see her class do something like this. What an amazing way to experience what those early immigrants went through.

  3. I think a great follow-up event would be to next cover the displacement of Native Americans as a result of this large immigration of peoples to North America, to cover both sides of the story.

  4. My great-grandfather, immigrated from Sweden in the late 1800s and became a farmer/landowner on what is now Mammoth Cave National Park property. Having participated in the Ellis Island event for two years I always pulled for the Swedes! So glad the experience continues. I truly believe the students learn more from this unit than any other in fifth grade. I know that I did and I’m an adult. Did anyone cry this year?

  5. What an excellent way of teaching this important part of American history. My husbands grandfather immigrated to the U.S. from Scotland when he was 13 years old. He came over with his family on a boat called the California.

    It is my understanding they had to have sponsors in the U.S. before they came. About 15 years ago, I had my husbands grandfathers name and his siblings put on the Ellis Island Immigrant Wall.

    BTW…Your and Johns costumes were so authentic and period.

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