Journey to the Past: CDS 5th Graders Embark on an Immersive Ellis Island Simulation
Ellis Island

In a compelling and immersive learning experience, Carrollwood Day School's 5th graders recently undertook an unforgettable Ellis Island simulation, an integral component of their Unit of Inquiry on "Where We Are in Place & Time." The simulation, designed to provide students with a hands-on understanding of immigration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, brought history to life.

Transforming their school into an interactive Ellis Island, students assumed the roles of immigrants arriving in the United States. The simulation unfolded as a multi-step process, mirroring the actual journey undertaken by millions seeking a new life in America. From undergoing medical inspections to interviews with officials, the students navigated each step with a palpable sense of anticipation and curiosity.

The immersive experience allowed them to empathize with the challenges faced by immigrants, fostering a deeper understanding of the complexities surrounding immigration. The simulation also provided a unique platform for students to embody the diverse backgrounds and stories of those who arrived at Ellis Island, reinforcing the value of embracing cultural diversity.

Through this hands-on approach, students not only gained historical insights but also honed essential skills such as critical thinking, empathy, and effective communication. The Ellis Island simulation exemplifies CDS's commitment to experiential learning, where students are not passive recipients of information but active participants in their educational journey. As the 5th graders stepped back into the present, they carried with them not only a richer understanding of history but also a profound appreciation for the diverse tapestry that makes up our society. 

Read what our CDS Patriots had to say about this experience:

During the Ellis Island Simulation, this experience taught me that it was really hard for immigrants to get through Ellis Island and that we should be grateful to be in America. It also taught me to enjoy the little things in life like a simple book that most people would take for granted. I felt confused because I didn’t really understand what they were saying. During the Mental Exam, I was confused the first time I did it because I didn’t know what to make. During the Medical Exam, I was scared to see if I had a disease and apparently I did, I had trachoma. I can connect this experience to what we have learned during our immigration unit because in the medical exam, they actually marked you with chalk. - Bella 


The Eli’s Island simulation was amazing. They crowded us into a small corner and the thing was they only spoke Spanish so the questions were in Spanish. We all were yelling at each other “ What is question 3!” It was pretty bad. Next after the “boat” ride we went up to a table and they confiscated items from our pillowcase. Luckily they just took a blanket from me but the other kids got like their iPads taken away.  Next was the medical exam and the woman who was doing the exam was touching your hair and she asked you to open your mouth to check for a disease. If you passed the medical exam you took an eyesight examination ( I think that’s what is was. After that, you went to a legal exam where they asked you questions in Spanish (which was really hard) and you had to answer them in Spanish. If you passed you were in America (I passed.) If you didn’t, you had to go to the waiting area for 5 or 10 minutes and then you had to do it all over again. Overall it was fun. -Thea


This experience taught me many things about how people from Ellis Island were treated and how they felt going into America and also seeing the Statue of Liberty. - Jeremy 


In the Ellis Island simulation, I felt a lot of different feelings. At first when we went into the "boat," I felt overwhelmed and scared. I felt overwhelmed because everybody was yelling. We had a test that was all in Spanish. If we did not answer all of the questions, we would be deported. That is why I felt scared. After that, they checked our bags, and took things out of it! It was hard because the people only spoke Spanish. So I did not know what they were saying. After they checked our bags, we had to go through a medical examination. That is when they checked our eyes, mouth, and hair for lice. The Spanish-speaking person put a checkmark on my shirt. Then sent me over to the mental examination. I did not pass the medical examination in two seconds, so I had to be sent to the holding center. I was at the holding center for five minutes. I was writing about my journey in the holding center until they traded me out for someone and I got to go to the other medical examination center. That is when somebody asked me a few questions in Spanish, and then looked at my "passport." Since all of that was good, I got sent to America! This experience taught me about the hardships the immigrants faced while immigrating. This experience was fun, but important and meaningful. I can connect this experience to our Unit of Inquiry because our Unit of Inquiry is about immigration.  We did a simulation on immigration, that connects the Unit with the simulation. - Angie


In the Ellis Island Simulation, I felt many emotions flying in my head. I felt a frown that was a mile wide because I was heartbroken when it was taken away. What happened in this process was during the lengthy line, customs inspectors went through our luggage and chose a specified item to take, in this case, my bible. This experience taught me to persevere no matter what hardships I face. I was greatly taught as well to have compassion for the incoming immigrants who faced these hardships when precious items were taken. During this experience, I was thinking about immigrants being deported and or separated from their families. I saw fellow classmates being deported and I have empathy for what they went through. I learned to always be grateful for my privileges and never take anything for granted. I can connect this simulation to our current U of I because of Ellis Island being known as the “Island of Tears.” I can connect to the “Island of Tears” by being heartbroken when my bible was taken by an inspector. I experienced and now have a better understanding of being knowledgeable about the “Island of Tears!” - Alexis


The thing that just happened was the Ellis Island Simulation. I was thinking during the experience how the immigrants were feeling in Ellis Island when most of them didn't know what anyone was saying. I was feeling stressed during the experience when I was on the boat because I didn't know Spanish and when people were searching my bag, but when I arrived in America I felt relieved and excited. Something that this experience taught me was that Ellis Island was very stressful, but in the end, it had a great payoff. I can connect this to what we learned because we learned that coming to America is a hard process but most of the time it pays off and in the Ellis Island simulation that got reinforced. - Aadi

Thank you to our CDS 5th grade team for facilitating this lesson and for all the faculty and staff volunteers for taking time to participate in the simulation.