WESTBROOK, Minnesota (STPNS) --     WWG  — Recently through a special grant and the South West  West Central Service Cooperative elementary schools were given a 52” flat screen television. The kit included a mobile stand and system to use interactive television to visit various sites around the country.

    Para, Courtney Locke  who works with technology and the computer lab at the elementary school, is the coordinator for the Virtual Tour program.

    The equipment can be used in most areas of the school wherever there is ethernet available.

    Locke says there are a couple of web sites which have all types of places that we can take tours of. “Last week one of the classes took a tour of the Minnesota Zoo,” she said.

    “All of the tours we have done so far have been free — we pay an annual fee of about $80 that gives us access to lots of free tours,” she says. “It’s really nice to have so many options to pick from.”

    Locke says, the school is looking into possibly integrating it into the community ed programs too.

    Teachers can let me know of things they will be studying in their class, and I can look for appropriate tours for that class. Most of the time she works with the sites to find times that will fit the site’s needs and can be worked into the schedule at school.

    There are also some sites that are pay sites varying from about $75 to $150. She noted however, “if you consider how much it costs to take a field trip, and the time you lose, it can make as much sense to do a pay virtual tour. But there is nothing in the budget for that at this time.”

    Locke said, “when we first got this thing, I looked at the size of it and thought I’m not going to be able to move it, but I found it is actually quite easy to move.”

    This particular day the fourth and sixth grade were taking a tour of Ellis Island.

    The tour guide introduced herself as Ranger Melissa. She said Ellis Island, from 1892 to 1924, over 12 millions immigrants were processed. On average, the inspection process took anywhere from three to 7 hours.  For the vast number of immigrants the island was truly an “Island of Hope.” For some it became an “Island of Tears,” a place where families were separated and individuals were denied entry into this country.

    The tour presenter asked the kids if they knew what an “Immigrant” is? She explained how the immigrants were tested for their health and their eligibility to immigrate.

    She showed a picture of the island from  the air, with the Statue of Liberty in the foreground and Manhattan and Jersey City in the background.

    She then showed a picture of the main Great Hall where immigrants were first brought for processing. That is where the museum is now located. She then showed a current picture of the inside of the great hall which offered a 360 degree view.

    She told the kids the island has just recently opened to the public due to damage from hurricane Sandy last year.

    She explained that in the beginning the island was actually just a large sandbar. So to make it stable seawalls were built around it, and then it was filled in with dirt excavated from the New York City Subways. The island is approximately 27 acres (about the same size as Dutch Charley Park).

    She asked the students how the immigrants came to America. They knew most came by ship from Europe. She then showed them a picture of the passenger ship Mauretania, a ship similar to the Titanic. Showing a postcard of the ship, she said this is the type of ship used 100 years ago.

    The ship carried four types of passage, first, second, third class and steerage. She told the kids most of the first and second class passengers seldom had to go to Ellis Island. While most of the  third class and steerage were usually quarantined on Ellis Island. The first and second class passengers were only sent there if they had health problems and deemed a health risk to the country.

    Those who ended up on Ellis Island were taken to the Great Hall for processing. There they were given physical and legal examinations. About ten percent of the immigrants were sick and were kept on the island until they were well enough to leave.

    Most of the people that came there were cleared of medical problems. They also faced legal testing which consisted of a test with about 30 questions to prove if they were who they said they were. Inspectors were checking to see if their information matched the manifest sheets. About 10 percent of them did not pass but were given a second chance to prove who they were. Sometimes there were misunderstandings because of the language barriers.

    About one percent of them were denied immigration and were sent  back to their country of origin, either for medical reasons or for legal reasons.

    She showed a portion of one of the manifests with four names on it. She asked if anyone could read the first names. One name was identified by those watching. She then told the kids one of the names on the list was that of her great grandfather.

    She also gave the kids some interesting facts about the island. The island was named after the original owner Samuel Ellis. She said several thousand people stayed on the island each night. There were 350 births recorded on the island, and about 3000 deaths were recorded.

    Wednesday December 4 at 1:00 p.m. Locke will be presenting a virtual tour of scuba divers on the California coast.

    This piece of technology should make for very positive learning experiences for the kids that simply would not be possible otherwise.