“My country was Germany. This is Gilbert’s story and his journey as a young man. I will read from his journal on November 21, 1909,” said Washington Middle School eighth grader, Luriangely Gonzalez as she introduced her scrapbook project to her fellow students. Luriangely read journal entries she wrote from Gilbert’s perspective, showed photographs of what Gilbert’s life as an immigrant might have looked like, and read letters she created from Gilbert to his adopted mother back in Germany. Luriangely presented her scrapbook to her peers as part of an immigration project in Joe Miraglia’s class.
As part of the social studies unit on immigration, eighth grade students learn about the reasons why Europeans left their home countries and also what pulled them to the United States. They also discuss what it was like for immigrants on their voyage to the United States. Students discover what happened at Ellis Island and Mr. Miraglia ends the unit by talking about how Americans treated immigrants and also how they adapted to living in the United States.
Mr. Miraglia has included the scrapbooking project as part of his immigration unit for the past 13 years. He thought it would be a great idea for students to put themselves in the place of an immigrant and describe what it would be like to come to the United States, and, to also describe the difficulties they would face not only in their journey, but how they adapted to live in the United States.
Each scrapbook included five written journal entries detailing: leaving their family behind, describing the journey across the Atlantic Ocean, their arrival at Ellis Island, their first day at their job, how Americans treated them, and how they adapted to living in the United States. Students also wrote three, full-page letters to their families or friends back in Europe. For extra credit, students could include pictures such as: their families, Ellis Island, their passenger ship, and a map and flag of their home country. Some of the creative ways students added to their scrapbooks included: passports, passenger ship lists, and literacy tests.
“Doing a project like this is so hands-on and lets you be really creative,” said Washington Middle School eighth grader, Patience Glatt. “But, you also really learn a lot more about the subject too. It really helped me to understand the social studies part by learning firsthand about how the immigrants might have felt, but it also helped my ELA skills because you had to use your imagination to write the journal entries and letters. It was like you were creating your own characters and their story.”
Class presentations were also an integral part of the project. Students read all five of their journal entries and the three letters. They finished by showing their pictures and documents. Some of the students dressed as immigrants while presenting their scrapbooks.
“I believe doing a project like this definitely helps the student to understand the unit on immigration,” said Mr. Miraglia. “The students can see firsthand what it was like to be an immigrant. They see the hardships they faced along with the excitement they showed once they saw the Statue of Liberty. This project also incorporates social studies and ELA. Students use research when looking for information on their country and they must also be very creative in creating their scrapbook. I truly believe the students will not only understand the unit better, but they will also retain the information, as it is a hands-on experience. Some students learn better when given the opportunity to use their creativity in projects such as a scrapbook.”