By Cheryl Conway
Some things are not meant to pass up, like a chance to immigrate to a new country for a better life… or a chance to meet a famous actress/ author and get featured on the television news.
Like the saying goes, “When somebody gives you something, you take it,”–exactly what the fourth graders at Tinc Rd. School in Flanders did recently when given a special invitation, free bus ticket and ferry tickets to the nation’s most historic immigration station.
Just like the immigrants did when given a ticket to the gateway into the United States, students and teachers did not turn down the opportunity to come to Ellis Island. On Mon., Sept. 19, at 7:30 a.m., three fourth grade classes with 84 students, 17 parents and nine teachers boarded two chartered busses to a once-in-a lifetime experience.
Sponsored by the “Save Ellis Island” Foundation, the entourage from Tinc Rd. School were invited as guests to participate in a special screening to hear actress Jamie Lee Curtis’ first reading and discussion of her 11th children’s book, “This Is Me: A Story of Who We Are and Where We Came From.”
The pop-up book, which was published the next day on Sept. 20, is about an elementary teacher who tells her class about her great-grandmother who immigrated to America with nothing but a small suitcase. The teacher compels her students to ask themselves what possessions they would take along if moving to a new country and being separated from the world they knew.
It was a bit star striking for those who know Curtis as a famous actress and very exciting for the young readers to meet an author.
“It was just wonderful,” says Kathleen Diefes, a reading interventionist at Tinc and Field Trip coordinator. “On the way there we watched “Freaky Friday” on the bus so they could see her as an actress. We were just in awe as adults. I got to shake her hand and was introduced to her.
“It was a once in a life time event for them that we were so fortunate to have,” adds Diefes. “It’s an amazing experience and we were invited. We didn’t call it a field trip; called it a special event. It was a great way to open up the school year.”
For the students, “Just for them to meet a real life author,” was great, says Diefes. They studied immigration, went to Ellis Island to see the museum and the artifacts, see the instruments and what the immigrants went through for their physicals “to bring it to life for them.
To make the trip even more exciting, NBC’s Channel 4 News New York Live with Ben Aaron was on the scene covering the screening, and with that, seven Tinc Rd. students were interviewed by Aaron and televised on Thur., Sept. 22.
Aaron asked the students what they would bring in their suitcase if they had to emigrate.
“I would pick my stuffed animal Barkley [a dog] because he keeps me safe,” said nine year old Charles Atkinson who was featured on the news. Atkinson said he enjoyed the trip because “I liked that we got to see a famous author. I thought Jamie Lee Curtis’ book was amazing because it gives different examples of what the kids put in their suitcases.”
While visiting Ellis Island, he said he “learned that Italy sent the most immigrants to the U.S.”
Other students shared interesting comments.
“It was touching that we were the first group of people that she read her new book to,” said Shawn Lavery.
“When she read her book, it was awesome!” said Alyssa Hahn. “It was really cool to see Jaime Lee Curtis reading her book to our class.”
“It was really cool being able to meet a movie star and an author,” said Isabella Moschello.
“I liked when Jaime Lee Curtis asked us what we would take with us in our suitcase,” said Gabriel Alonzo. “I picked family photos because I would be sad to leave them behind and it would remind me of the good times I had with my family.”
Tessa Zentko wrote, “A lot of people say that Ellis Island was the “island of tears” but to me it is the “island of hope.”
Trips to Ellis Island are nothing new to Tinc Rd. School with third and fifth grade classes visiting there in the past. But the school hadn’t been since 2012 once Hurricane Sandy hit, says Diefes.
The idea of visiting the historical landmark arose this past summer when Diefes was contacted by a former Tinc Rd. school parent, Fran Alvarez, who works with Save Ellis Island Inc. Diefes had taught two of Alvarez’s children at Tinc.
“She contacted me during the summer and asked me if I would coordinate the trip,” explains Diefes, who then went on to speak with her school principal Dr. Richard Fair about the idea. Since last year’s third graders studied immigration, he determined as fourth graders a trip to Ellis Island would coincide with their learning.
At the end, students received a signed copy of Curtis’ book, as well as a plastic souvenir bracelet with the “This is Me” logo, date of field trip and Ellis Island.
Cost of the trip was $16 , and that was to cover the cost of the book. The remainder of the trip was funded by Curtis and Save Ellis Island Inc.
After the book reading, students attended a “small” program on immigration and toured the museum with a tour director, seeing the famous Great Hall and the “Stairs of Separation,” a stairway that separated those allowed to enter America from those being detained for legal or medical reasons.
Since they had to board the busses by 2 p.m. to be back by 4 p.m., most would agree that they want to return to Ellis Island for a second trip soon.
“Yes, I would visit again because it was interesting,” concludes Atkinson.
“That was my trip from Ellis Island…. Let me just tell you it was off the hook!” said Marwah Ashraf.