Students at Grover Cleveland Middle School, Caldwell, lived a dream last month- an American Dream-– as sixth graders celebrated the ninth annual Immigration Day. Students dressed as ancestors or self-created immigrants from throughout the world. Expanding on a simulation done for more than eight years by teacher Mike Teshkoyan, 2007 was the first official grade-wide Immigration Day, with all of the sixth grade teachers creating a truly valuable and powerful experience.
Designed to complement a unit on “Industry Changes the Country” that takes students from the rise of big business through the Great Migration, Immigration Day comes towards the beginning of the unit that spans the years from 1878 to 1920. More than 25 parent volunteers spend the morning helping as processors and observers throughout the activity.
This year, the countries represented included Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Estonia, Latvia, Germany, Great Britain, and many, many more, including several countries that were not part of the Ellis Island era. Although the ethnic mix that results is not historically accurate, it ensures that every child, regardless of their background, feels that they are truly part of the experience.
Students begin the experience by getting a “boat” assignment, where they view a short video that illustrates the process their ancestors followed to enter the United States through Ellis Island. The “immigrants” are then sent to processing where they are questioned about their potential health, professions and work skills. Several students are deported or sent to sickbay, but no one is deported for good, and by the end of the simulation, every child is sworn in as a citizen of the U.S., signing the Oath of Loyalty and beginning their pursuit of the American Dream.
To celebrate their newly earned citizenship, the students are welcomed by the Statue of Liberty and enjoy an international feast supplied by the parents. Each student supplies a dish from the country from which his or her ancestor immigrated. Selections included spaghetti and meatballs, eggplant parmesan, kugel, Irish soda bread, shepherd’s pie, corn beef and cabbage and many more.