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Students wait in line to get their passports checked at the Ellis Island Day event at Riddle Brook Elementary School on Dec. 7. (Kathy Remillard Photo)

Students re-enact the Ellis Island experience at Riddle Brook

Fourth-graders at Riddle Brook Elementary School got a glimpse of what it was like for their grandparents and great-grandparents as they immigrated to the United States, as the classes participated in its annual Ellis Island Day.

Faculty and staff worked as immigration officers, medical personnel and testing agents, brusquely interviewing potential “citizens,” and putting them through much of the same rigors as real immigration staff did 100 years ago.

Students, each in period costume and carrying their one allowed suitcase, moved through several different stations: registry, legal, mental testing parts one and two, medical, literacy and special inquiry before finally making it to the Final Inquiry, where they were finally declared U.S. citizens.

The students have been working on the project since the beginning of the school year, said enrichment coordinator Kathy Parker, and in many cases, studied the country their families came from.

“I work with them on what it was like to be at Ellis Island,” Parker said, but the project gave students insight into their own histories as well. The school librarian assisted students with tracing relatives who arrived in the United States through Ellis Island, and Parker said much of the work being done in school continued at home.

“Their whole families got involved with it,” Parker said. “They get so much out of it.”

Principal Molly McCarthy said students seemed to take more of the exercise in stride this year, especially if they got sent back to the end of the line because something in their paperwork or interview wasn’t acceptable.

“They’ve worked really hard on this,” she said.

Students said they enjoyed learning what it was like for their ancestors as they arrived in the United States.

“I learned why our family came from Germany to the United States,” said Mitchell Soederberg. “I thought it was interesting to know people actually got sent back to their countries if they didn’t make it through Ellis Island.”

Maggie Thompson said it felt “amazing” to cross over the Staircase of Separation, officially becoming a U.S. citizen.

“I liked seeing what it was really like,” she said, “and how we got to get dressed up.”

Parker said students learned concepts across different curriculum areas, and had fun along the way.

“This goes down as probably their most memorable experience in fourth grade, maybe even elementary school,” she said.

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