Visitors to the atrium of Landstown Middle School in late October might have been a bit confused seeing a queue of students waiting to have a teacher dressed as a 19th century nurse check their eyes and spines. Another teacher examined students’ handmade passports and asked them about their homeland and destination. A tour of some nearby classrooms would reveal more historical artifacts and photos.
It was part of an interactive lesson plan created seven years ago by Diane Tarkenton, gifted resource teacher, and Tracy Benson, social studies teacher, to teach their students about Ellis Island. Over the years, it’s moved out of their classrooms into a full, multistation experience for all 450 seventh graders at the school.
“We have them create an immigrant character beforehand,” explained Benson. “They choose which country they’re from and where they’re going once they get to the United States. What job they plan to do when they get here. We invite them to dress up as their person.”
Students started the day in the auditorium, where they heard emotional, firsthand accounts of immigrants arriving to Ellis Island in the late 1800s. Then they experienced a cursory medical exam, faced legal questions, learned about the Staircase of Separation and looked at original clothing, luggage and writings from period, all loaned from families whose relatives came through Ellis Island.
“They’re amazed it’s real,” said Benson. “They’re spellbound. Students will come back to me years later and say, ‘I remember Ellis Island!'”