Arrival in america

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By Elizabeth Troutman

Audrey Riggs waited in a cluster of about 15 wiry fifth-graders waiting to leave the dock of Ellis Island – or front hallway of Buckner Elementary School. While teachers announced orders and glanced at the sheets of paper in each child’s hand, some students couldn’t keep a straight face. But Audrey, who wore a red hanky on her head and a wool skirt several sizes too big, caressed a doll with with pursed lips and troubled eyes. In her imagination, she’d stepped onto American soil for the first time after two weeks at sea. Now free from confined compartments of an immigrant ship, she was separated from her family. She hushed her infant as she searched for someone in the vast “melting pot” who spoke her native language. “It’s scary and exciting,” she said, breaking character for only a moment. “I am cringing.” The fifth-grade hallway at Buckner was transformed into early 20th century Ellis Island Friday. Students experienced the famous stop on the way to America first-hand as immigrants during a two-hour simulation exercise. With directions from teachers and parent volunteers, the students made their way through 10 stations, starting from the dock where they disembarked from the ship and ending at a ferry ride to New York. The students avoided “deportation” by complying with the instructions of the immigration officers, played by parents, teachers and school administrators. Rules included not talking, staying in line, responding promptly when questioned and exhibiting good health. Students received a stamp at each station. All five of Buckner’s fifth-grade classes participated in the simulation. The exercise fulfilled social studies learning requirements for the grade level. The group of 118 “immigrants” started their journey in the cafeteria where teachers encouraged them to close their eyes and think about how real immigrants felt when they spotted the Statue of Liberty from their ships. The students were guided through the hallways and various classrooms and were inspected and interviewed by teachers and parents. Lisa Cheek, principal of Buckner Elementary, said the exercise is an opportunity for students to envision what it was like for their ancestors to immigrate to America. Cheek said the exercise has sparked students’ interest in ethnic heritage. “What the kids learn is what it meant to come to America and what it meant to come through Ellis Island,” Cheek said. Audrey reminded herself through the exercise that her great-grandfather experienced harsh conditions when he traveled to America— at least much worse than what was replicated on the fifth-grade hallway. Her mother has told her stories about her great-grandfather, who brought his family to America from Germany.Audrey knows he liked to eat hossenfeffer, a German dish made with rabbit meat, and fried bologna. He hung an American flag and a German flag outside his house. Audrey said he came to America for “happiness and freedom.”After waiting in a classroom for her health examination, Audrey bid fifth-grader Ellie Mesker “Auf Wiedersehen” when she traveled to the next station. “I know a lot about my family history,” Audrey said. Ellie, 10, believes immigrants struggled to come to America because they wanted a better life. She didn’t like the teachers prodding her classmates from station to station. Some of her classmates were even thrown in “jail” for talking or stepping out of line. “It’s really hard, but I think it’s worth it,” she said. China Fleischer, a fifth-grade teacher, started lessons on immigration the Monday before the simulation. Her class broke up into small groups to discuss family heritage. She admitted it’s difficult to play the role of a tough immigration officer, but thinks her students understand real officers at Ellis Island were cruel to immigrants at times. “When we put students in real-life experiences, it makes it easier for them to relate,” she said.

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