CANYON COUNTRY – Eighth-graders at Sierra Vista Junior High got a chance Tuesday to travel back in time, but for many the biggest lesson taken from the day was about the here and now. Dressed in elaborate costumes and speaking French, German and Greek, teachers and parents created a glimpse of Ellis Island in New York with a chalk-drawn boat, a bookshelf converted into a medical center and a computer lab transformed into a wedding chapel. About 15 million people were admitted to the United States through Ellis Island from 1892 to 1954. Lorraine Fulleman, the second teacher to take over the project in the last 15 years, said the exercise was originated to put life into the eighth-grade history curriculum. And now she said it helps her bring headlines to life. “One kid asked me not to call him a `stupid immigrant,”‘ Fulleman said. “But I had to tell him this is how people were treated then, and I think it helps them understand what is going on today.” Fulleman said the biggest lesson students gain is in empathy. “We study history to avoid the errors and repeat the good stuff,” she said. Fulleman said she believes today’s immigration debates have taken a step back into history. “People are not learning from the past.” History teacher Julie Velazquez said her students realize that most of their families were also immigrants. “They learn that we are a country created from a melting pot of cultures, and they realize that immigration is not a race issue,” Velazquez said. Students are asked to pick countries of origin and design passports for themselves to simulate entry into the country. Velazquez said many students pretend to be their own great-grandparents and great-great grandparents. Many students gain appreciation for the struggles their families went through generations ago, and for others the family experience is more recent. Dressed in navy slacks and an oversize white dress shirt, Harjot Purewal said the simulation made him appreciate his parents. His father immigrated from India a few years before he was born, Purewal said. His mother had to wait four years before she could join her husband. “I can’t believe my parents went through some of this to get here,” Purewal said. And 14-year-old Kenneth Stone was brief and to the point with his remark on the experience. “This is hard, man,” Stone said. [email protected] (661) 257-5254160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!