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Ellis Island reimagined

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AMERICA BOUND:Immigrants with baggage line up at a teller’s window marked “Money Exchange.” The photo was taken between 1902 and 1915 at Ellis Island, according to the New York Public Library.
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CROSSING OVER:From left,Maconaquah Middle School studentsLogan Williams, Emily Robledo, Korbin Shrock, Trinity Stuber and Jaden Judsonact out roles of early 20th century immigrants and inspectors during an Ellis Island simulation.
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PASSING THE TEST: Maconaquah Middle School seventh-grade student Erika Baber stands for the national anthem after clearing a series of immigration stations during an Ellis Island simulation.

BY CAROLINE EGGERS - ceggers@perutribune.com

Maconaquah Middle School students dived into the roles of early 20th century immigrants and inspectors during an Ellis Island Simulation on Friday.

Ellis Island was an immigration gateway in New York state, and was operational from 1892 to 1954.

The history and English classes of MAC teachers Jennifer Lorona and Michael Sommers participated in the unique lesson in early American immigration.

Lorona’s students acted as 1900 Ellis Island inspectors, and Sommers’ students took on the roles of immigrants from Russia, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

The kids were split into different stations: background, vocation, character, character appeals, health, and health appeals. The final stations were clearance, and swearing in, or deportation.

At the character station, the kids acting as inspectors asked the “immigrants” about their religion, marriage or divorce status and whether they were kicked out of their country.

At the character appeals station, a girl asked, “What’s your story, why do you want to come to America?”

The health stations reviewed immunizations and self-reported health histories, which the students running the station said what seemed to be “standard stuff.”

The children could follow or deviate from their provided script.

The kids playing the roles of  immigrants were encouraged not to expose the truth – especially regarding health – and the inspectors were supposed to pick up on cues, Lorona said.

Many of the deportees were from Italy.

On Monday, Lorona intends to debrief the students on what would have actually happened.

Many of those who passed through the stations would have been denied at the actual Ellis Island

“The inspectors were going easy on them,” Lorona said.

One student said she never thought about immigration before, and said she was beginning to see the layers.

The teachers expressed gratitude for the opportunity to collaborate outside of the classroom.

“It’s nice to work to work with other teachers,” Lorona said.

Leading up to the activity, students learned about the evolution of immigration from 1800s to present in the classroom.

 Students learned how the U.S. historically restricted immigration, what it was like to be interrogated, and reflected upon immigration today – debating topics such as whether there should still be an Ellis Island, which closed in 1954, or if the U.S. should build a wall.

“They’re looking at the pros and cons of illegal immigrants,” Lorona said, “and what’s forcing them away from their homelands.”

Her students expressed views from opposite ends of the spectrum.

The students are also acknowledging the role racism and discrimination played into the immigration process, Lorona said, or how people were turned away because of a genetic disease like arthritis.

An important part of the lesson is that immigration has always been – and continues to be – part of the American landscape, according to Lorona.  

The first North American “immigrants” – and eventually Native American ancestors – crossed what was once the Bering Land Bridge between Eurasia and Alaska between 12,000 and 20,000 years ago, during the end of the last glacial period, according to recent studies.

Then the Vikings crossed the Atlantic around 1000 C.E., followed by the great European migration about 500 years later, according to The Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation.

During the 19th century, millions of people from Ireland, the German Empire, Britain and the Austro-Hungarian Empire crossed over, partially due to famine. About 230,000 people came from China, and 50,000 people from Africa, according to The Statue of Liberty- Ellis Island Foundation.

In the early 1900s – the experience the students portrayed on Friday – Ellis Island received the most people from Italy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire.