OSWEGO, NY – Each year about this time “immigrants” arrive at Oswego Middle School.
The annual major research project is something that many students long remember. Teacher Sandy Brown said, “The students love this project. Several become totally immersed in it. I still see students that participated in this 10 years ago and they still remember and talk about this project.”
This project is a true team project involves immigration through historic Ellis Island in New York Harbor.
Brown explained, “This is a month-long project that starts with two major writing pieces and then there is the fun stuff like creating documents, dressing appropriately in the dress of your ancestors and concluding with the trip through Ellis Island through a historical fiction piece.”
A classroom at the Oswego Middle School becomes the “Ellis Island Immigration Department” and much like the travelers of generations past they pass the Statue of Liberty as they enter immigration.
The “immigration” portion of the curriculum is a genuine learning experience for students.
Sarah Smolinski noted, “I learned a lot about the country my family came from as well as many other smaller things that I never knew. Our family goes farther back in Poland than I thought we did. We still have relatives in Poland that I have never met, but would like to meet.”
Robin Huang said, “It was a very worthwhile project. It gave me a good chance to look back on our heritage, learns something about the various immigrants and to realize how difficult it was when they traveled here. It was definitely harder to live and people were glad just to have food and shoes.”
Aristotele Concepcion was another student involved in the project and said, “I learned more about my country (the Philippines), culture, holidays and the difficulty that was faced by immigrants. I have been to the Philippines, but I think this project really made me realize how much I would like to go there again.”
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. Teacher Sandra 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.
Oswego Middle School eighth graders simply didn’t study Ellis Island as they were able to “live it” in a unique learning experience.