CLARENDON — Wearing head scarves, sweaters and shawls, Clarendon Elementary School’s third-grade class sang valiantly from their stage June 11 in honor of immigrants who made the long journey to find their new home in America.
“These students have been studying immigration all year in order to understand how the United States is a nation of immigrants,” announced their teacher, Lynn Pecor.
Lead by Lady Liberty herself, played by student Isabella Littler, the students ascended the stage in the Clarendon Elementary School cafeteria, where they assumed the roles of immigrants aboard a ship headed for Ellis Island in 1906.
Xander Pennington introduced each act of the play, several minutes long apiece, as the “immigrants” drew closer to their new home.
“See, I see her now!” one student cried, pointing at Littler as if from a mighty distance as their “ship” drew closer to the statue.
“She’s dressed in ancient Greek robes, because Greece was the birthplace of democracy long ago,” Lily Hampton recited.
“I taught for 35 years, and throughout my career teaching kindergarten through sixth grade, we often did immigration,” said Mary Saceric-Clark, the students’ paraeducator. “Given the complexity of the times and the news of today, it seemed very appropriate to focus on immigrants.”
Throughout the year-long process of rehearsing their lines, memorizing historical facts, and researching early 20th-century wardrobe, Saceric-Clark said the students continued to push the bar for their performance higher and managed to expertly perform their final product completely from memory.
“We started first by educating them,” Saceric-Clark said. “What is the Statue of Liberty? Who made it?”
The students learned the history of the famous gift, what each spindle on her crown stood for, and how the broken chain at her feet represented freedom from slavery that they might have experienced in their own countries.
“Then we proceeded to talk about “where are you from,” Saceric-Clark said. “They studied all their own heritage.”
The students began their immigration study early in the year by making their own family trees and tracing their bloodlines back to their ancestors’ country of origin, Saceric-Clark said, and each student packed a knapsack with the supplies the students decided they would take with them on their “journey to America.”
“What was it like for the immigrants,” Saceric-Clark said. “(Then) we did a really in-depth study of Ellis Island.”
The students each created their own square for a collective immigration quilt before adapting the Reader’s Theater play for the students inspired by her own grandparents who immigrated from Italy on a ship called the “Cincinnati.”
The students then raised their voices in unison to perform the fully-memorized “Coming to America,” to an instrumental version of the Neil Diamond hit, with several students performing as a chorus or solos, including Littler.
“It was hard to keep my hand up all that time,” Littler said at the end of her performance. “I learned that the seven points on the crown stand for the seven continents and the seven seas.”
Long tables on the far wall of the cafeteria were lined with a potluck of homemade foods created by the students and their families to offer a taste of the ‘old country,’ with “champagne” and baguettes from France, pierogies from Poland, kifles and palacinky from the Czech Republic, and even Swedish Fish and potato chips from “Britain.”