High school project featuring 800 students will simulate Ellis Island

Ellis Island, New York served as the official gateway to the United States for some 12 million immigrants, processing migrants, refugees, tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free from 1892 until 1954.

Stock aerial image of Ellis Island
Stock aerial image of Ellis Island

Ellis Island, New York served as the official gateway to the United States for some 12 million immigrants, processing migrants, refugees, tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free from 1892 until 1954.

In 2018, Ellis Island will briefly live once again, brought to life thanks to the grand efforts of every department of Dickinson High School, as the student body and teaching staff collaborate to create the Ellis Island simulation project, to be held on May 9.

"We proposed a project to the high school where Ellis Island would be simulated within the high school and the middle school children would become the immigrants who would pass through our Ellis Island," Brian Ham, chair of Dickinson High School's social studies department, said in a presentation before the Dickinson Public School Board Monday, March 12. "To this date we have about 30 different teachers just in the high school who are contributing to this process. From music and drama to English, math, science, the DHS art department, vo-tech, foreign language and health careers-just about every department of the high school is participating in this."

The scale of the undertaking was emphasized by Ham and DHS Principal Ron Dockter, who were together with a number of student leaders to provide details about the project, which has taken a year-and-a-half to formulate.

The project is anticipated to have 800 young people "dressed as immigrants" come through the simulated Ellis Island during the morning period-in the afternoon, then, the simulation would transform into a museum, and students would guide members of the public through their exhibits, showcase skits, fashion and more.


"One of the things we decided as a department from the very beginning was that this would be a student-led project," Ham said. "So the students led all the meetings, they were supposed to come up with meeting agendas, progress reports..."

The scale of the project promises a certain degree of chaos, which Dockter said would only help enhance the simulation.

"This is a huge, huge undertaking. Until you get into it, I don't think you realize how much the teachers are involved," Dockter said. "You want to talk about creativity and collaboration ... (it's) probably not going to be perfect, but it's probably going to be pretty close to what the chaos was like in Ellis Island."

For student leaders like Brayden Groll, a junior, this was an opportunity to break from the norms of typical curricular assignments and really stretch new muscles, practicing teamwork, leadership and cooperation.

"This wasn't a typical school assignment that you give your teachers," he said. "It's more of a task that you are given. You aren't told how to do it, just to do it and do it well."

Ham said that something he's most excited about is the opportunity to provide students for whom English is a second language a chance to play a crucial part of a project. He noted that these students can often be "forgotten."

"One of the things I'm most excited about is using our english language learner kids and our foreign language people, they are going to be our foreign language speakers, meaning they could be an interpreter or they could be asking questions in a foreign language," Ham said. "One of the first things that's going to happen when those kids get off the bus is to hear instructions in a foreign language. They are really, hopefully going to get an experience of what it was like for those people ... those kids are often forgotten, and now they have a chance to be part of something really cool ... they have a chance to be included."

Ham said they hope to livestream the event via Facebook, as well as invite news and media.


"We want to give a chance for those kids to show off what they can do," Ham said. "One of the proudest moments for me was in introducing it to the high school staff. It was kind of like when you're teaching, and you see those kids' eyes light up-it was like that for the teachers."

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