Ellis Island Simulation
To help the students experience what it was like for the immigrants to go through Ellis Island, hold a simulation. You will need to enlist some parent help to efficiently run the simulation. Use the Ellis Island Checkpoint form that can be downloaded from the Media Gallery. You can give the students play money in case they choose to purchase a train ticket. They will need at least $10 to make this purchase. As the students enter "Ellis Island" they will need to present their passport and share their first name and homeland with the registrar. Have stations set up for the Medical Examination, Mental Examination, and the Legal Inspection. Then, also set up a station that will be the Great Hall where the immigrants can have a snack and play a game of checkers, a game most immigrants had never played. The stations will entail the following:
Medical Exam: The person at this station will check vision and a eye chart may be useful. To check physical movements, you can have them do jumping jacks or touch their toes. Then, to check speaking and hearing, they can recite a nursery rhyme or the examiner can say a sentence and have the immigrant repeat it back. This would check hearing and speaking.
Mental Exam: The immigrants will count backwards from 20 to 0, solve simple arithmetic problems, and read a paragraph and follow the directions within. A sample paragraph that has been used in this simulation is:
This simple test is submitted in order to show your ability to read. Hold the card with both hands, then turn it upside down and place upon the table, using your left hand to do so.
Legal Inspection: Here, the legal inspector goes through the checklist in that particular section of the paper.
Once students have gone through all of the stations, they will then be taken back out into the hall to re-enter the Great Hall. As then enter, they will hand their Checklist to an examiner and they will determine if they will be detained or will enter America. As they enter, if an immigrant fails any of the sections of the exam, they will be temporarily detained and will go to the right as they descend the "stairway of separation." Anyone taking the ferry to New York will go to the right, and those who purchased a train ticket will go to the left.
Reiterate that only about 2% of the immigrants were sent back to their homeland. Most of these had incurable diseases or were thought to become a burden on society. Those being detained were usually only kept for a week or so, usually until a sickness was cured or more information was gathered. Some families were separated as some were detained and others boarded the ferry. This is how Ellis Island became known as the Island of Tears.