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Carrying on a Tradition of Honoring America’s Immigrant Heritage

Statue of Liberty National Monument

National Park News

On May 19, 2012, Prattsburgh Central School (PCS), located in the southwestern tier of New York State, made an impact on Ellis Island as 145 of its students, (carrying 50 musical instruments with them), 10 parents, and half a dozen administrators and teachers, accompanied one wooden bench into the Great Hall to honor the legacy of those immigrants who passed through Ellis Island on their way to becoming part of the American Dream.

Through the school’s contacts with the Greater Southern Tier Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) Distance Learning Coordinator, René Carver, and Ellis Island’s Long Distance Learning team an intriguing idea was formed: why not have this school become the next to donate a replica bench for the Ellis Island Great Hall that could be delivered by the BOCES students on the same trip the school’s Band and Chorus planned performance at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City? The administration of PCS and the staff of Ellis Island agreed it would be a great learning experience for the BOCES students, and provided the Band and Chorus members an opportunity to perform at Ellis Island as part of the dedication ceremony.

That wooden bench, an exact replica of the original benches that supported immigrant families awaiting processing at Ellis Island, was designed and built by two groups of PCS students:  four students who created the blueprints on their computers, (using measurements taken last year by another school), and nine who then used those plans to build a bench from red oak under the guidance of teachers Andrea Prescher, Dale Dickerson and Jim Wall.

The morning of May 19, before most of their classmates woke up, two of the students, Austin Cartwright and Paul Risly, brought the 12-foot long bench to the Great Hall. When the rest of the school and chaperones arrived on the island, the dedication ceremony began in the Great Hall. 

Education Specialist Katherine Craine welcomed all of these students, parents and teachers by telling them how thrilled she was that the students at PCS wanted to build a bench and to donate it to the park.  “It will be a symbol of your dedication and hard work and a wonderful legacy for all visitors to see and enjoy while visiting the island” she said.

PCS Superintendant Joseph Rumsey spoke, explaining how proud he was of all of the students’ and their teachers’ hard work and dedication to the project these past few months. Rumsey also thanked the parents and community for their support of all the students. 

“Tradition, honor and legacy” were the words student teacher Andrea Prescher, who helped bring the project to fruition, wanted to leave everyone with as the build and design students pulled the ribbon to unveil their replica bench. 

As part of the ceremony, the PCS band and chorus each performed a medley of patriotic music.

The entire event was witnessed by more than those who were in the Great Hall that day. Video conferencing equipment made it possible for more than 100 parents and siblings to witness the entire dedication ceremony, including the musical performance live at their school so that those who had supported the program, but could not travel to Ellis Island, were able to watch this historic event unfold. This was made possible by the tireless teamwork of René Carver, Statue of Liberty National Monument IT Specialist Nicholas Addotta and National Park Service Northeast Regional IT Specialist and Distance Learning Coordinator James McGettigan.



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