Fourth-graders ‘experience’ Ellis Island
BEDFORD — Carrying a passport, suitcase and — hopefully — $20, Riddle Brook School “student-immigrants” faced inspectors at Ellis Island, just like many of their ancestors more than a century ago.
Dressed in circa 1913 costumes representing either their own families’ ancestry or a country they adopted, fourth-grade students celebrated the school’s 14th annual Ellis Island Day.
Three-quarters of the students were refused entry and had to return to the back of the line and face the inspectors again. Staff members dressed immigration inspectors at eight stations — registry, legal, mental testing 1 and 2, medical, literacy, special inquiry and final inquiry. Those who were allowed entry stepped onto a platform representing their acceptance into America, while receiving applause from teachers, parent volunteers and students.
The program is part of the SEED curriculum, Skills Enriched through Educational Diversity, said teacher Kathy Parker.
“We spent half of our time during the 14-week program on geography, learning about the continents. Then we focused on the students’ personal geography. At that time, they explored their ancestries with their families. Some of them even go to Ellis Island,” said Parker, who dressed as the Statue of Liberty for the occasion.
Students share family trees and keep a journal of their own families’ trips or an adopted immigrant’s trip.
“They’re warned they could be sent back if they don’t know certain questions,” said Parker. “They’re barraged with questions.”
The student-immigrants had to know their names, have $20 in their possession, know who they would be staying with, and know the correct year. The students were also asked if they had a job in America, which was sort of a trick question as the immigrants were not allowed to have jobs until they were immunized, Parker said.
Fourth-grader Caroline Twite, who was coming from Germany as Pauline Vogl, said she liked Ellis Island Day.
“We found out about our ancestry and what people had to do coming to America, and what they had to go through,” Caroline said.
Julia Neefe, who arrived from Russia as Rose Shapiro, said she was sent back once because an immigration inspector spoke a different language she didn’t understand.
Sofia Florian, who arrived from Italy under her real name, was also sent back because she was asked about her father’s name but couldn’t say it in time.
Some students represented their real ancestries such as Tareq Ziada, whose father is from Egypt. Tareq took the name of Muhamed Alimusri from Cairo, Egypt.
Hiba Babar, who arrived at Ellis Island as Humera Babar from Pakistan, also represented her ancestry. Hiba proudly said at home she is taught about her parents’ homeland of Islamabad and observes the Eid days of fasting.
Madison Goldstein, who arrived from Poland as Ania Shefski, carried her baby, Angelica, from station to station; she, too, was initially turned away.
“I only had Polish money. I had to get money because I had to have $20 in American money,” she said.
Immigrant Graham Fitzgerald, who arrived from Italy as Vinny Pascilo, donned a mustache. He got through the medical exam after doing push-ups for “Dr.” Kurt Hines, a task many of the students had to perform before leaving the medical station.
“You were one of the best Ellis Island Day groups ever,” Parker told the new arrivals.