Coming to America

In her weekly update to parents, third grade Humanities teacher Paula Hall described the simulation activity that ended their study of “The Big Wave” of immigration that lasted from the late 1800s through the closing of Ellis Island in 1954.

All Aboard!  The S.S. Greenhill set out for the shores of New York, and after a long and tiresome voyage across the Atlantic, cases of conjunctivitis among the passengers, and rats in steerage class, the steamship arrived safe and sound.  Of course, the first class passengers enjoyed quite comfortable accommodations of blankets, cookies, and lemonade to make the journey a positive one.

But for the passengers in steerage class, the experience was quite different …

By the end of the simulation, all of the students had experienced both environments.  Differences in nourishment, space, light, and comfort defined the immigrant journey.  The children wrote about their reactions to the division of first class and steerage passengers.  They learned that even the Statue of Liberty welcoming them to New York harbor did not signal the end of their worries and challenges. 

Throughout their study of immigration, the timelines and the statistics, the students sought to answer the overarching question, “Why did people come to America?”  Their exploration of the topic touched on those who were forced to come as well as those who migrated for better living conditions and those who risked all for opportunity. 

With each vintage photograph, each personal tale, and each read-aloud, the third graders prepared to step into the immigrants’ shoes.  They began to understand the fear of the unknown and the anxiety experienced by their forebears.  They developed the essential quality of empathy. 

The third grade team sought to document this empathy and understanding in a unique way.  Professionally photographing each third grader costumed as an immigrant child has been a culminating activity of the unit for several years, but only recently has the third grade team partnered with Frank Lopez’s AP Photography class to take the photographs. 

As you see, the combination of photographic skill and the understanding of the immigrant experience have resulted in stunning evidence of learning.  As the students donned historically accurate caps or shawls, they went back in time.  And their student photographers joined them in their journey.  

These photographs were taken by seniors Jenny Wiseman, Ryan Kline, and Margot Beauchamp.  Their photographs of third grade students/immigrants will be included in their Advanced Placement portfolios.  The advantages of teaching and learning across divisions and grade levels are crystal clear.

Now you can appreciate these photographs with both your eyes and your heart.

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