Pupils look on as 40 become new citizens

Field trip to courthouse caps immigration studies

December 18, 2004|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

The more than 40 immigrants who gathered in the ceremonial chambers of the U.S. District Court in Baltimore yesterday afternoon knew what to expect of their 15-minute naturalization ceremony - an event for which they had long been preparing.

What they didn't know, however, is that they would share the experience with a group of 46 fourth-grade pupils from Chesapeake Academy in Anne Arundel County - the first such visit to the courthouse by academy students.

"It's so special that they are here with us," said Anne Truong, 25, who immigrated from Vietnam four years ago and lives in Silver Spring. "We are so happy, and the kids are happy, too."

For the pupils - dressed in neatly pressed uniforms of navy and dark green - the field trip capped a semester spent studying immigration, an unusual curriculum developed by teachers at the independent creative arts school.

"We studied immigration every day," said Vicki D'Andrea, a fourth-grade teacher at the academy. "The subject informed everything we did."

In social studies class, they learned about Ellis Island. In English class, they pretended to be young immigrants traveling to America on a ship, crafting letters to thank their parents for the opportunity to leave home. In math class, the pupils designed tenement houses as they learned about scale.

By the time they reached the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Beth P. Gesner yesterday, the fourth-graders demonstrated an impressive grasp of the world.

"I know where Burma is," said 10-year-old Ryan Schubert, standing in the sunlit lobby of the courthouse, where he and his classmates organized a reception for the new citizens (funded by the pupils, who earned money by doing chores at home). "We found it on a map last night, but it was hard because it's name changed [to Myanmar]."

Ryan stood next to Molly Pinnus, a blond-haired girl who called the field trip "really cool."

"We've been studying immigration for months," said the 9-year-old. "And we got to be part of this really special day."

When learning about the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, the pupils of Chesapeake Academy were spared few details.

In recent weeks, the school was host to an immigrations official from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, who explained the paperwork the process requires. The children also committed the Oath of Allegiance to the United States to memory, which contains such difficult words as abjure and potentate.

D'Andrea said the children looked up all the words in the dictionary, "which would normally be really boring," she said. "But these kids wanted to know what every word meant because they now understand what it means to become a citizen."

The new citizens - who came from more than 30 countries - said they were impressed with the knowledge and enthusiasm of the pupils.

"This is such a wonderful occasion," said Binu Mathews, a 34-year-old student from India. "It's a pleasure to have them here to understand the procedure because they are a part of this country, and it's something they should know."

Mathews clutched a book titled What America Means to Me - a gift from the pupils, who handmade individual books containing poems and drawings about the United States for each of the new citizens.

"I will absolutely keep this as a souvenir," said Mathews.

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