Thinking of Manhattan and field trips at first might seem overwhelming. There are so many sights to select from, but also so many crowds. Depending upon the age of students in your classes, the crowds might be more than you, as a teacher, and they, as under twelve are ready to experience.
A field trip that combines fun and learning and New York City is Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Having your buses bring you to Liberty State Park in New Jersey starts the great adventure. Buses can more readily maneuver their way to New Jersey than down through New York City. Before you board the ferry to Ellis Island, you and your students can explore the Empty Ski Memorial. This is a testimonial to the hundreds of people associated with New Jersey who lost their lives because of 9/11. This moving tribute is somber yet uplifting, so it frames the day nicely.
The ferry ride itself is such fun for the students. They enjoy buying snacks from the snack bar. Looking out over the water and taking pictures, more than entertains students on the ferry. It’s a great way to see students being kids.
Visiting Liberty Island first is sometimes easiest. Students are still in the initial stages of the field trip and are accustomed to staying with their group. Starting in the Immersive Theater, students watch a ten-minute multi-media presentation that provides an interesting story of the Statue. From there, students explore both the Engagement Gallery and the Inspiration Gallery.
As the name implies both galleries truly engage and inspire the students. In the Engagement Gallery, students can visual Bartholdi’s thought process in creating the Statue. Students will feel transported back to Bartholdi’s warehouse. His methodology to produce such an iconic monument becomes clear to the students. Best of all, his step-by-step approach demonstrates that such is undertaking is doable. Students feel energized, which makes is so engaging.
Immediately next door is the Inspiration Gallery. Here students are able to view the original torch, which is amazing. Existing collages of images of people representing the ideal of liberty capture the students’ imagination. They are then able to create their own self-portraits and place themselves in the concept of liberty.
Moving onto to tour of the Statue of Liberty itself, students must be in chaperoned groups. The Park Service has very strict protocol for accessing the statue. Groups can be no larger than 10, and each group must have an adult. There are no exceptions. Also, each student must have their own ticket. All bags must be checked. So doing this early in the day tends to go more smoothly.
Climbing the stairs can be strenuous for some students. But the view from the pedestal is worth the steps. Students love walking around and seeing the skyline. The information on building and renovating the Statue of Liberty is incredibly interesting. To engage students in the museum at the Statue of Liberty, it’s worth giving them a scavenger hunt.
Our academic focus for the Statue of Liberty, was to explore the process of creating such a statue and its significance to people when it was built and now. Upon returning to the classroom, students developed a Core Value Monument. It was an interdisciplinary STEAM activity.
Notes that students needed to take at the Statue of Liberty Museum were –
- Why was she built?
- How was she built?
- Identify at least three symbols that are contained in her construction.
- What is the Statue’s relevance today?
Students had see-through plastic zip bags, easy for security, in which they kept a packet and writing utensil. Detailed questions were provided for the students. Hints of where to locate some of the answers were also provided.
Liberty Island is then a perfect location to walk around. Plan time for students to release some energy from the bus ride and the museums. The gift shop is always a hit with students.
Then gather your groups to reboard the ferry. Head over to Ellis Island.
When you arrive on Ellis Island, taking a lunch break is a good start. I would recommend discouraging students from bringing their own lunch. If students bring a lunch, they need to carry it with them the while on Liberty Island. Any lunch materials need to be disposable. I did provide parents/guardians a link for the menu at the Ellis Island Café. Parents/Guardians were able to budget expenses.
For security reasons, I did not permit backpacks. Checking through metal detectors with a large group takes too much time.
Students worked with partners or in groups obtaining information about various exhibits on Ellis Island. To make it more interactive, students took pictures at designated locations. This information gathered was needed for work they completed in the classroom.
Framing questions for students –
- What do artifacts tell us? Where do artifacts come from?
- What was the process of immigration?
- From what perspectives can we learn about immigrants and immigration?
- What was/is the immigrant experience?
While at Ellis Island, groups explored Through America’s Gate on the second floor. In this exhibit, students took pictures of some of the questions that immigrants were asked. This helped them understand the process of immigration. Upon return to school, they reflected on how challenging an experience it was.
On the third floor, students delved into Treasures from Home. In this exhibit, students took pictures of different artifacts. With the picture of the artifact, students snapped a picture of the museum tag that contains information about the artifact itself. Three pictures were required to be of three different families and countries.
The end product included visuals with explanations that capture the purpose of Ellis Island as an immigration center and now a museum.
For students who are not able to attend the trip, there are wonderful websites on which students can explore information about both Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Then once everyone is back in the classroom, all students are able to work together sharing ideas.
New York City has an incredible number and variety of historical, informational, and entertaining venues. Students love that step of maturing and proudly being able to say that they went to New York ‘on their own.’ Field trips to New York City are worth exploring.
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