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Westorchard Students Recreate Ellis Island

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. - Fourth-grade students at Westorchard Elementary School brought history to life on Thursday by recreating a scenario that many of their ancestors went through at Ellis Island over a century ago.

“Welcome to steerage. It’s been six weeks, you’ve crossed the ocean, you’re tired, you’re hungry, you’re dirty, you’re smelly,” said teacher Miriam Fernandez, in character as an “inspector.” “But look, there she is, the Statue of Liberty.”

For the simulation, each student assumed the identity of an immigrant from various countries, including England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland and Russia.

After leaving the “ship,” the students ventured upstairs for bag weigh-ins, medical evaluations, mental evaluations, legal inspections and special inquiries. Principal James Skoog and other staff members also dressed in character as inspectors.

The students were given name tags with ship and manifest numbers, bags that could not exceed 20 pounds and fake currency to exchange for a train ticket if they made it through the inspections.

Students also carried notebooks to write down their experiences and how it felt to be deported, detained and go through Ellis Island.

“We started teaching immigration about 10 years ago, and then we thought we’d like the children here at Westorchard to experience history, as well as read about it,” said Fernandez. “Because it’s pretty dry to a nine-year-old.”

While some were detained and others made it to America, all were invited back downstairs to feast on international food. Parents prepared the lunch with food from countries all over the world.

The children ate together and watched a slide show of themselves from a recent school trip to the actual Ellis Island. For the immigration lesson, students were also asked to interview the oldest person they knew for an oral history.

On Nov. 2, the students will get back into costume when they put on an immigration play to show their parents what they have learned.

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