S.S. Seward eighth-graders presented some of their best, most scholarly work yet, just before heading home for winter recess. Culminating weeks of research, and before an assembly of their peers, students shared the story of the immigrant groups who, at the turn of the 20th-century, began crossing the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans to the United States in pursuit of a better life.
On the east coast (1892-1954), over 12-million immigrants, mostly Europeans, entered through New York’s Ellis Island. On the west coast (1910-1940), people from 82 countries, mostly Asian, arrived in Angel Island on the San Francisco Bay.
Why did they leave their countries of origin? Did they find what they had hoped for in America? How was their immigration experience similar? How was it different? Why?
Working in groups, and under the guidance of their English and social studies teachers, Kaitlyn Smith and Maura Ronan, students pursued these questions using the school’s database to access primary document sources. Their projects focused on the immigrant waves from Poland/Eastern Europe, Germany, Italy, Ireland,and China.
Presenting their findings to fellow students, faculty and administrators gathered in the school’s learning lab, students established that the Ellis Island and Angel Island experience were not one and the same.
Immigrants arriving in Angel Island were subjected to medical inspections, interrogations, and detained for weeks if they did not have the means to reach their intended destination.
All immigrants were seen as undesirable and relegated to the harshest, most dangerous jobs. Some groups, such as the Irish, experienced severe discrimination on the basis of their Catholic religion. Others, like the Chinese, were treated as racially and culturally inferior and ostracized.
For the English language arts component of the project, students used Storyboardthat.com, a digital storytelling tool, to develop an immigration narrative for their ethnic group and delve deeper into the human side of the immigration story.
The immigration projects also called for the creation of posters and/or dioramas based on primary research sources, such as period photographs, as well as the constructive critique and evaluation of each group’s presentation.
For a complete sensory experience and celebration of America’s immigrant past, students and faculty shared traditional ethnic foods.