Second-graders at McKitrick Elementary School had a chance to gain a greater understanding of what life was like for immigrants arriving at Ellis Island during the early 1900s.
The school, at 5503 Lutz Lake Fern Road, created an event that allowed children the chance to walk through the paces that immigrants faced when they arrived in America.
The Feb. 27 simulation involved 180 second-graders and 68 volunteers, many dressed in period clothing.
Bilingual volunteers spoke to the students in Turkish, Russian, Greek and Arabic, to show students how it would feel to arrive in a new country without knowing its language.
Students prepared for the experience by taking virtual trips to Ellis Island, where they listened to audio recordings of interviews from people who actually came through Ellis Island.
They also had a chance to video chat with a museum curator, via Skype.
To prepare for their trip, students were asked to construct a cardboard suitcase and use it to hold five prized possessions, such as family photos, a favorite book or other treasured items.
Each student remained in character as they completed the activity, which took two hours to three hours to complete. They carried out the steps that were taken by actual immigrants: They waited in long lines for customs, upon departure and arrival. They were crammed into a boat. They were sprayed with ocean mist and doused with water, to simulate delousing measures taken when immigrants arrived.
They provided fingerprints at the registry, were subjected to searches at baggage claim, and forced to undergo medical and psychological exams.
They also participated in interviews and had to pass a citizenship test.
And, they faced real dilemmas, such as being separated from family members or having to pawn their possessions for money.
After each group finished, they were sworn in as American citizens — by a judge, portrayed by McKitrick Principal Allison Cline.
The event, now in its third year, is the brainchild of former second grade teacher Liisa DiTarando, who is now the school’s Social & Emotional Learning Resource teacher.
It takes about three months to organize the annual production.
In addition to great content, the activity teaches kids critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which allows them to rise to the occasion, DiTarando said.
Every year, she said, she receives emails from parents that tell her how their child could relate a connection in their own lives to the content that was taught in this program. Parents also share that it has given their child the ability to empathize with what their relatives may have gone through.
Published March 4, 2020