They learned what it was like to be a tired, poor and fearful immigrant at Ellis Island a century ago.
Cora McClure, 10, was a shoemaker from Ireland, optimistic about her chances of finding work in her new home. Jasmine Rainer, 10, was a seamstress from Germany who feared having to give away some of the precious things she brought with her as bribes to pass immigration.
Chase Preston, 11, was an attorney from Poland.
“Immigration was really hard,” Chase said. “They were really scared and it was hard to get through. There was a lot of stress, because they didn’t know what to say.”
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The three students were among about 80 fifth-graders at Clover’s Larne Elementary School who learned by experience Friday about the historic immigration at Ellis Island in the early 1900s.
As part of their study of immigration, each student drew a random country and an occupation from a hat, then developed a character based on that information. They came up with a name for their character, and on Friday, they came in costume ready for the trip to America.
Debbie Faulkner, the school’s arts in education teacher, has for five years created the Ellis Island simulation . She said it’s one way to make the curriculum come alive.
“They’ll never forget this,” she said.
Faulkner said the students began working on immigration about two weeks ago. She said each student did online research to choose a name for his or her character based on the country of origin. They also looked up photos of what the immigrants wore and came up with costumes.
Students were given money to buy their ticket to America based on their social studies grade, she said. They had a chance to earn or lose money based on their work in class for several days.
On Thursday, she said, the students used their money to purchase tickets for the voyage in first class, second class or steerage.
Students in first class were served food during the voyage, but those in steerage would have been crammed in the belly of the ship in filthy conditions, without clean drinking water, she said.
After a simulated voyage in which students were divided according to their tickets, they passed an inspection station where their luggage was searched. Then they moved on to the immigration and citizenship procedures at Ellis Island.
Samara Loftin and Becki Mess, both 10, said some of the immigrants had a hard time answering the questions.
“It was hard to move from country to country,” said Samara. “They had to go through all these exams and sometimes people didn’t pass.”
Becki Mess said many of the immigrants gave bribes to examiners so they could pass. “They lost their precious things,” she said.
After the students passed immigration, they sat down in a hallway lined with photographs of the conditions for immigrants at Ellis Island and after passing through. Many of them lived in poverty in crowded conditions.
Students were asked to write about their experience and whether their arrival in America met their expectations.
Katelyn Bryant, 10, a housekeeper from Poland, figures it will be OK. “I’ll have a hard time, but I’ll be able to get a job and I’ll be happy.”
Larne Principal Tony Hemingway said he hopes the Ellis Island simulation helps students put into perspective that period in American history, and to set the stage for the events that followed.
“It also helps them appreciate being here,” Hemingway said, “and not having had to go through this experience.”