Edison High students learn history with Ellis Island Experience


It was a scene that might have looked as chaotic as the real thing.

On Friday morning at Edison High School, juniors in one of the school’s American history courses were playing the roles of immigrants entering Ellis Island in 1908, one of the busiest processing years for the New York facility. Dressed in period garb, they went through various stations, checking in at tables staffed by parent volunteers who were playing roles as immigration agents.

History teacher Brian Boone said the Ellis Island Experience has been an Edison tradition since the late 1990s.

“They get to experience what their ancestors went through,” Boone said, adding that he hopes the lesson shows them the value of American citizenship.

The students started by lining up outside as if they had just gotten off a trans-Atlantic ocean liner and stepped onto American soil for the first time.

They came to Edison’s Ellis Island assuming new identities loosely based on real people, Boone said.

The first stop was a checkpoint where agents looked for passports.

The second station was a vocation check, where the students talked about their work histories and skills.

Third came the “character” station. Among the inquiries there: “Have you ever been to jail?” “Are you an atheist?” “Have you ever undergone psychiatric care?”

The intent of that checkpoint at the time was to screen out “troublemakers” entering the United States, Boone said.

Fourth came a health screening for conditions such as tuberculosis or influenza.

Last was a checkpoint where the parents looked over the results of the previous stations before ushering the students into another classroom where they took loyalty oaths before the American flag.

Camryn Yauchzee went through Ellis Island as Catherine Trotsky, originally from Russia. She was the widow of an executed Russian diplomat who had plotted to kill the czar.

Trotsky had traveled across the Atlantic with $580 to start a school, Camryn said.

“I took all the riches I had and boarded a ship to America,” she said.

Mia Gault played Gilda Bruun, a 29-year-old German who professed a strong set of skills and dreams to start a clothing company.

With a smile and remaining in character, Mia said she breezed through Edison’s Ellis Island because “I young and healthy.”

Twitter: @BradleyZint