PLANTATION, Fla., March 2, 2017 – America is often referred to as a nation of immigrants, a melting pot. On March 10th, students in 7th grade at American Heritage School will immerse themselves in the school’s 18th Annual Immigration Day.
One of every four students at American Heritage is foreign-born, and 60 different countries are represented throughout the student body. “This event truly embraces the cultural diversity so prevalent at our South Florida school,” says Dr. Douglas Laurie, vice president.
“Throughout the day-long event, we hope our students come to appreciate the hardships involved in being a new immigrant,” explains Mrs. Leslie Porges, creator of AHS’ Immigration Day and one of the Junior High History teachers. “We want to really paint the picture of what it was like coming to a foreign place without knowledge of the language or the customs and having to adapt quickly to survive.”
Immigration Day has become a tradition in the 7th grade. Leading up to the event, students learn about Ellis Island and the trip the immigrants took to get to this country near the turn of the twentieth century. Then, they group themselves into families–each student is assigned the name and identity of a real former immigrant–and they create passports with dates and other information they need to commit to memory. On the morning of the event, the students come to school dressed up as immigrants circa 1910. They are all seated in one place and wait for their family’s name to be called by the passport agents (parent volunteers) who question their identities and ask for the specific information in their passports. They are then tightly loaded onto ships (buses) that take them to Ellis Island for processing (the school’s gymnasium).
The students must then pass a physical exam (given by professional doctors) and an extensive interview process. Once they have been processed, all Immigrants are faced with three problems: how to speak the language, how to make money, and how to learn to be Americans. The Heritage Settlement House (classrooms) provides language classes and an employment agency. If their employer is satisfied with their work (small jobs in the classrooms, such as organizing bookshelves, dusting desks, cleaning dry erase boards), they get paid and have money to buy food. The day culminates with an international banquet and activities.
“What I learned in one day at Immigration Day I will remember for the rest of my life,” said one 7th grade student. “It really brought to life for me how the immigrants must have felt when they came to America. I probably would not have understood it as much as if we just learned about it in the classroom.”