Barrington students emigrate through simulated Ellis Island
Station Middle School students simulate the emigration experience Oct. 17 during the school's Immigration Day. Learning activities included a simulated boat experience at Ellis Island, medical exams and job placement. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 26, 2012 12:32PM
BARRINGTON — Barrington’s Station Middle School held its fifth Immigration Day last week, transporting eighth-grade students back to Ellis Island in the late 1800s.
“We do a variety of things to simulate what it was like on Ellis Island,” explained history teacher Amy Suessen, who helped start the Immigration Day program.
The learning experience started Oct. 17 with students gathering on a tarp to simulate getting over to America on a boat. Suessen explained that the simulation provided the feel of being on a crowded boat.
“Also, the kids are encouraged to come to school dressed up as people of that time,” Suessen added.
Wearing long dresses or donning button-down shirts and fedoras, the eighth-graders applied for passports and took citizenship exams in the library.
Then they were moved to a medical exam station. Many of the students were given a clean bill of health, but others were diagnosed with ailments as diverse as eczema, orthopedic problems and mental disorders.
“It’s fun for the kids to make it real,” said Lynn West, a parent volunteer.
West and other volunteers were stationed in a work room where students who were deemed healthy enough were assigned jobs like factory worker, nanny, artist and teacher, among other professions.
Although the students knew their jobs prior to going to the workroom, many were surprised to find they actually had to perform those tasks. Seamstresses had to sew buttons onto cloth and nannies had to diaper baby dolls.
“This is very interesting,” said eighth-grader Alex Rednicki, who had been assigned a job as a nanny. “We’ve learned a lot of things about immigration.”
Although there were no such job stations at the Ellis Island, Suessen said the school created this extra step to enhance the program.
“It was an opportunity for us to put things in that kids would want to do,” she said. “They needed something hands-on.”
Eighth-grader Maesyn Poidomani said she enjoyed the program and liked the dress-up component of it.
“It’s a really good experience and it’s a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s really interesting to see what it was like back then.”
Karen Tischhauser, an eighth-grade English teacher who helped create the program, added that the students are required to write a narrative of their experience for her class.
“A lot of kids will put stuff in from their own family history,” said Tischhauser. “I think it’s going to make for some great writing.”
She explained that she started Immigration Day five years ago because she thought the interactive, hands-on learning experience would leave more of an impression than textbooks and classroom lectures.
“It just seemed like something natural that I wanted to try out,” she said.
Suessen said although Immigration Day is primarily an English and history program, the school’s math and science teachers also weave the experience into their classes with immigration statistics and the construction of a replica Statue of Liberty.