Late 19th Century US Immigration
West 2 students played a simulation game that allowed them to imagine what it would have been like for a Russian Ashkenazic Jewish family to flee their country and come to America in 1882. In order to meaningfully engage students in this historical experience, 6 stations were set up around the Arboretum. Each station contained a story card that revealed a piece of the story and instructed the group to complete certain actions before being moving onto the next station. To complete the game successfully, students had to safely deliver all 10 members of their family to the departure port in Hamburg, Germany. The group begins by choosing who will play the mother and father of the family. Then Father, Zach, and Mother, Rachael, work with the group to decide who will play the older children and who will play the toddlers.
Students receive character pawns that symbolize their characters and serve as their game pieces. If they still possess their pawn at the end of the game, their character will have made it to America.
The Family Discusses Whether to Emigrate From Russia
“Name two reasons to go and two reasons to stay.”
Zachary (Father) – “Okay, children, one reason to move to America: we will have freedom and be able to practice our Jewish religion freely.”
Rachael- (Mother) “Another reason we should go is because I think we would be happier there. Those new jewish laws [laws against the Jewish] are horrible.”
Easy- (two year old)- “I have a reason to stay. We will miss all our friends.”
Nick- (Oldest brother)- “Would you like to have friends or would you like to have no house and no food?”
Nick- “Mom, if we’re poor how will we have enough money to get to America?”
Zachary- “We have just enough money to get us to America.”
The group celebrates with friends and family who have kindly pooled their money to give the family a small amount to help them through their travels.
The family pays train fare and boards a train that will take them to the Russian border.
Aboard the train. With the help of a smuggler, the family bribes a border guard who is willing to look the other way as they cross over the Russian border. Unfortunately, they must silently cross a stream carrying the young children on their backs.
Fortunately, the family makes it into Germany safely. On Wednesday, they will board the steamship in Hamburg, Germany that will take them to Ellis Island. We hope that they will pass the preliminary medical screening. Otherwise, they will be forced to return to The Pale, an area of eastern Europe and Russia where Jews were forced to live during the late-19th /early-20th century.
Learning Extends Beyond History
As students search for the cards in the trees at the various stations they also have the opportunity to explore new areas of the park.
Outdoor classrooms build camaraderie among students as they support one and another in reading prompts and understanding the unfolding story line.
After Completing the Simulation
“Thoughts, Impressions, Connections?”
Rachel – “It was hard and we haven’t even gotten on the ship.”
Nick – “It was easier to understand because we got to experience it.”