Experiencing Ellis Island

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Students walk to classes to help work for the teachers. Teachers from both lower and upper school had students complete a variety of tasks, including cleaning classrooms and sorting assignments. (Photo/ Noor Sukkar)

Almost a century ago, immigrants from Europe spent months preparing to enter America. They often went through physical and medical testing at Ellis Island in order to enter the county. With this year’s annual immigration day held Friday, March 13, seventh graders experienced what immigrants may have gone through when they formed into families, chose a country of origin and a story about their trip to America.

Students could choose to dress from their country in order to bring the experience to life Mirroring how immigrants awaited the chance to come to America, students sat in the bleachers until they heard their chosen family last name. Unlike last year, the sun shone outside. 

“Immigration Day always goes fairly well, but last year there was torrential rain and the year before, we changed the afternoon activities,” Mrs. Porges, Civics teacher and the organizer of Immigration Day said.  “This year everything went like clockwork. The kids were wonderful, the adult volunteers were wonderful, and even the weather cooperated. This year was possibly the nicest in history.”

After the history teachers called students’ names, they boarded the boat (the bus). Students then entered Ellis Island (the gym) to get their papers processed. Each student carried a fake passport they created in class. Once entering Ellis Island, the first immigration clerks they encountered spoke only foreign languages including Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese. Students could experience how it may have felt to enter a foreign country where rarely anyone spoke their native language. Other volunteers later asked questions about family genealogy, any special skills the family had, religion and political affiliation and medical questions.

Seventh graders Ava Miller, Ian Tuffin, Luke Maron and Ella Mosquera pose for a picture before heading out to Ellis Island. (Photo/Mrs. Leslie Porges)

Student immigrants then went for a medical examination. The medical evaluations were conducted by volunteers and people in the medical field. Many immigrants moved on after being deemed healthy. Some, however, could not move on as they were “diagnosed” with uncared for teeth (braces), nail fungus (nail polish) and malnutrition (signs volunteers looked for). 

The immigrants that didn’t pass inspection were sent to quarantine, where further evaluations by doctors occurred. If they passed the second round of tests, they could enter into the country. Those who didn’t pass were deported back to the bleachers to restart the process. The students who made it through testing were sent to classrooms to work for other teachers that represent the Americans immigrants worked for. 

This is the 21st year of Immigration Day. Because the event has gone on this long, the history department only needed about ten days to plan.  Although the administration had their doubts about keeping the event because of coronavirus, they allowed it to continue. 

“I hoped that administration would let Immigration Day go forward.  It was discussed, but since none of the kids had the virus and none of the parents had it, and it was held at school and not out in the community, it was allowed to go on,” Mrs. Porges said. “Immigration Day has become something of an institution for both students and parents. It would have been a shame to cancel it.”

Alyssa Herzbrun, a senior at American Heritage, is in her third year of newspaper. She currently edits the opinion section of the newspaper and is a Co-Assistant Editor-in-Chief. On the weekends, Alyssa loves to volunteer at places like Broward Outreach Center, Ronald McDonald House and Feeding South Florida. Alyssa is an avid reader. Over the summer she read a book every day but school is interfering with her reading streak. She also loves to clog (not the toilet but the dance). Alyssa is looking for a great year and hopes to meet many opinionated people.