GEORGE—A recent activity at George-Little Rock High School let juniors step into the past to get a glimpse of what coming to the United States through Ellis Island was like for immigrants.
The class of about 40 pupils were led throughout the school building Sept. 9 during an interactive simulation that portrayed the immigration process at the historic inspection station in New York Harbor.
English teacher Brenda Sandbulte and history teacher Kris Hamilton led the 80-minute interdisciplinary endeavor across two periods thanks to a scheduling alignment that puts their junior classes back to back.
Sandbulte, who also is the school’s drama director, puts on the simulation each year and said she and her students “really get into it.”
“I go up into the costume room and grab a bunch of hats and jackets and things like that and suitcases that I have up there and the kids dress up. Then the day before the simulation, I take a picture and create a passport for them, or ID papers, if you will,” Sandbulte said.
The students also took part in a random drawing before the activity to find out how much money their immigrant characters had upon arrival on the island; some students drew a few hundred dollars, while others had nothing.
They then were led on a winding tour through the school as they passed through different stations as if they were being processed through Ellis Island before either getting the all-clear to enter the United States or getting rejected.
The teachers and students were not the only ones involved with the simulation. Principal Tyler Glanzer portrayed the lawyer who questions the hopeful migrants while district superintendent Tom Luxford portrayed the doctor who inspects them for physical ailments.
“He’s just awesome, because he screams at them and has this harsh attitude and he just makes it a lot of fun,” Sandbulte said of Luxford. “He dresses up — we give him a lab coat and everything.”
During the trek through the building, Luxford occasionally marked students to indicate he saw signs of physical conditions that could warrant further questioning, similar to how Ellis Island doctors examined immigrants.
At the end of the simulation, the students were separated into two groups: Those who are permitted to enter the country and those who are told to return to their native land.
“A culminating activity is they write a letter in their home country explaining how they felt during the day. Hopefully confused, because in some of their bios they are told that they don’t speak any English,” Sandbulte said. “They have to maintain that.”
Sandbulte has put on the simulation in the past, but typically she has had to do so in separate semesters of the academic year with smaller groups in a shorter time frame. This year, since American literature is a yearlong course, all juniors in the school will go through it at once.
“Some of the things that I used to hurry them through, now we can take a little bit more time,” Sandbulte said.
She also said having more students take part in the activity at once heightened the mentality of having to move through a large crowd that immigrants experienced.
Besides taking part in the immigration simulation, the juniors have been reading diaries of early American colonists such as William Bradford and John Smith. They also have read immigration stories from the 1900s and ones from the present to learn why people have sought to come to the United States throughout the country’s history.
“The fear and the hope, like, ‘What are we going to find?’ but also the hope of the opportunity was there in the 1600s, it was there in the 1900s and it’s there in the 21st century,” Sandbulte said.