Submitted by Livingston Public Schools
Livingston third graders are learning what life was like for immigrants who made long journeys to start new lives in America, arriving at Ellis Island at special Immigration Days at each of the elementary schools.
“Welcome to Ellis Island,” third grade teachers and parents told third grade “immigrants” at Hillside School.
Some students dressed up for the occasion with girls in long skirts and bonnets or kimonos and boys in knickers and news boy hats. A couple of boys even sported mustaches and beards and a few children carried luggage as they approached the document processing center. They went through medical exams, waited in detention centers, answered questions about their family histories and work skills and took cognitive tests. Some classes took field trips to Ellis Island, had feasts of food from different countries or “got married.”
“I have decided to come to America to find a better life,” said Julie Moresco of Hillside School, who said she was pretending to be an immigrant from Palermo, Sicily. “I am a cook and I make lots of pasta.”
Immigration Day taught Julie what the immigrants had to do when they came to America, she said as she waited in line to have her papers checked, then another line for a cognitive test and another to write a postcard home to her family.
“Immigration Day is to give them a feel of what their ancestors went through…the long lines, the unfair treatment,” said Hillside Third Grade Teacher Kathleen Culhane.
The students learned the many reasons that people came to America. Bailey Krug of Harrison School, dressed in stylish knickers and a news boy hat, said he came to America from Ireland because of the potato famine of the 1900s. Subha Chopra, also from Harrison, said she left India for America to get more of an education and Reed Becker of Harrison said he left Russia so he could practice religious freedom in America.
Harrison Third Grade teacher Lynn Raiolo dressed up as a physician and checked students for lice and made them hop on one leg for special medical exams.
Harrison Third graders filled out large passports, had their fingerprints taken and made family trees, said Third grade teacher Lynn Sorrentino. They also took “oaths of allegiance” to the United States and listened to Neil Diamond’s “America.”
Harrison’s Nicholas Gullace, who identified himself as Salvatore, said he came to America to avoid the war in Italy. Nicholas said he was very excited for immigration day and decided to “grow” a mustache for the occasion. “It took me a couple of months to grow,” he said, as he touched the curly magic marker mustache Mrs. Sorrentino helped him draw on his face.
At Hillside, students learned that immigrants faced difficult journeys on the boat rides here, which is why they had to go through medical exams at Ellis Island, said Ryan Crane, who called himself Jules Chaponick. “It was a very difficult journey and many people on the boats were in bad health.”
At the Hillside detention center, Judge Van Dusen (or third grade teacher Deb Van Dusen) married couples and authorized adoptions if she found children without parents. Children giggled when the judge married them and then an announcement was made about the nuptials.
While Hillside, Harrison, Collins, Mt. Pleasant Elementary and Burnet Hill have already had their Immigration Days, Riker Hill will host its event next week.
Allison Freeman is the Interim Manager of Communications and Community Outreach for Livingston Public Schools.