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Students experience immigration at Ellis Island simulation


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When Lavisa Malmstad arrived in the United States from Sweden three years ago, she waited in line for hours at the airport to make it through customs.

Two weeks ago, the ABC-Stewart School sixth-grader learned what the process would have been like a century ago if she had to travel through Ellis Island. She participated in a learning exercise complete with the medical inspection, mental exam and literacy test.

The school is learning about U.S. history this year. ABC-Stewart uses a three-year rotating curriculum. It includes history of early man through ancient Greece and ancient Rome through modern history. Included in the modern history unit is learning about immigration.

The students had been learning about the subject in morning lectures and through classroom assignments.

But culture teacher Kyle Davis wanted something more engaging.

“I would like them to have a better understanding of how immigrants became American citizens, and what struggles they left, had to face when they crossed the Atlantic Ocean and how frustrating the immigration process could be,” he said.

The gym was turned into Ellis Island, the teachers acted as inspectors and each student was assigned to a family.

Some families were seeking refuge, others could barely speak English and a few individuals were told they had influenza.

Students were asked to memorize their family profile and play the part as they cycled through the stations and answered questions about their health, line of work and history.

“We’re trying to give kids multiple means of learning,” Davis said.

Lavisa, who will be returning to Sweden next year, said the activity gave her a better understanding of what immigration was once like.

“If it were like this when I came to America, I would probably be a bit scared,” she said.

At one station, teachers Meredith Cole and Autumn Hileman were ordering students to perform physical challenges including jumping rope, performing jumping jacks or lifting weights. At the mental health station, teacher Jerry Maulin was holding up flash cards with scribbles and shapes to test the family’s mental competency.

“I’m nervous and excited,” student Fanny Holmsten said. “I think they were probably excited to go to America, but nervous they won’t get in.”

Some of the families were deemed undesirable by Davis at the end of the activity, while others were given the United States Oath of Citizenship.

“I hope they found it was a very difficult process,” Daivs said. “I hope they come out of this with a greater appreciation for the struggle that immigrants faced.”

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