History comes to life for Keller fifth-graders in Ellis Island simulation

04/22/2014 7:30 AM

04/22/2014 7:31 AM

People wait anxiously for their turn to be processed. Some of them are dressed in fine clothes with hats or lace gloves, others in torn shirts and handkerchiefs. They speak with foreign accents of their hopes and dreams.

“It was my father’s dying wish that I come to America,” says Vito Florenciano from Italy, played by fifth grader Austin Hyatt. “If I didn’t go I would be drafted into war.”

Holding a baby in her lap, Pirrko Ericson from Denmark (aka fifth grader Hailey Thomas) says, “My husband is waiting for me, and I want a better education for my daughter.”

Once they are in processing, they go through stations where they answer questions about their background, family, vocation, health and character. Then the decision is made whether they get to be American citizens or are deported. Those who make it through say “The Pledge of Allegiance” as their loyalty oath while those who don’t wait for a trip back to their home countries.

Welcome to Ellis Island, Bear Creek Intermediate style.

Students in Renae Garrett’s fifth grade language arts and social studies classes got to participate in an Ellis Island simulation April 17. They were given the identity of an immigrant in the early 1900s, and they were to dress, answer questions and behave like that person.

Fifth-grader Jillian Andre said, “I learned that the way over was very nerve wracking because you don’t know if you’re going to make it or not.”

Some of the students are heartbroken when they hear they will be deported. In the simulation, four students out of about 50 do not get in to America. They are sick, mentally ill, elderly or destitute.

At the real Ellis Island, only about 2 percent of those coming in were deported, Garrett told her students.

Processing staff members were portrayed by volunteers from Evergreen Senior Living in Keller and by a handful of grandparents.

Patsy Lamons, an Evergreen resident, said, “I think it’s really great. The kids are really into it and enjoy it. I didn’t know a lot about Ellis Island before, but the kids studied it and know how it should be.”

Jack Ramsey of Wichita Falls first volunteered a few years ago when his grandson was in Garrett’s class. Now he enjoys coming back to portray a doctor at the health and character appeals station.

“This is as chaotic and arbitrary as the real thing probably was,” Ramsey said. “It’s pandemonium.”

Garrett said that this is the first time she has done the simulation with fifth grade but has done it seven times with sixth-graders. In previous years, she had a volunteer who came through Ellis Island and could give them a first-hand account. Several years ago, the school had a student from Italy who became a United States citizen just days after the simulation. In the next few days, current students will watch a DVD of his citizenship ceremony.

“Students learn the reasons immigrants came to our country, and they learn about democracy, having a vote and freedom,” Garrett said.

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