OSWEGO, NY – Immigrants sailing through New York harbor were and still are, greeted with the inspirational view of the Statue of Liberty.
Recently, Oswego Middle School “immigrants” were greeted by their own Statue of Liberty outside the “Ellis Island Immigration Department.”
After a hiatus of a year, the Eight East Team brought back this wide ranging educational experience for Oswego Middle School eighth graders.
Teacher Sandra Brown said, “We took a year off, but it returned this year with a couple of new twists. Art teacher Erin Platten and her students constructed a Statue of Liberty at the entrance and Kristie Tonkin and her students prepared appropriate period food for the new immigrants.”
The “immigration” portion of the curriculum is a genuine learning experience for students.
Michele Lavery said, “I learned a lot about Ellis Island, how the immigrants were treated and how difficult it was for them. I became my great-grandfather, David Lavery, who came from Ireland. During the research I spent a lot of time with other family members talking about how my great-grandfather came to America, but also I learned about where he came from, what he did and it was fun.”
A visitor to the “Ellis Island” room would think they had stepped back in time as students are dressed in character of their ancestors and the majority of the employees are appropriately dressed in period costumes.
Prior to the project finale students are required to spend quite a bit of time doing research.
Brown said, “This is really a research project with a twist. They take the research they have done and turn it into historical fiction. Some students base their experience on real ancestors while others create a character based on their own ethnic heritage.”
Continuing she said, “They research the country where they came from, why typical immigrants might have left, why they chose America and what it was like to come over on the steam ships.”
Students were required to write a travel log of their adventure and also had to prepare their own documents such as birth certificates, passports, marriage licenses and immunization forms.
Brown said, “Each immigrant went through the entire immigration experience. The first stop was the personal documents station where they presented their paperwork. The next stop would be the educational and occupation station where they might show a report card, diploma or letter of recommendation. Some might bring olive oil to show they were olive farmers or fruits and vegetables to show they were farmers. Housewives might bring recipes.”
The immigrants had to answer “the 29 questions” which were the original questions asked by officials.
Health and physical condition were essential aspects and the medical station examiners would either send the immigrant to the next step or place them in quarantine.
Brown said, “If there was an issue they would be sent to the board of inquiry where they would have to jump through hoops. We really wanted to create as much of the Ellis Island experience as possible within the confines of a classroom.”
The final stop was the station where they would pledge allegiance to their new country, receive a ticket and enjoy a luncheon of various ethnic foods.
The food portion of the project was significantly different this year.
Tonkin said, “Each of my home and careers and nutrition classes researched a different country and created a food that was appropriate to the time period of that country. The students had quite a bit of fun in the food lab and received plenty of hands on experience. This took the whole career component one step further as the students were involved in catering a large event. They were required to do math, determine the amount of ingredients and then prepare everything.”
The day after the project the nutrition students did an in-depth evaluation of their program and determined what went right and what needed improvement.
Oswego Middle School eighth graders simply didn’t study Ellis Island as they were able to “live it” in a unique learning experience.