20 become U.S. citizens in ceremony at Marlton school

New American citizens (from right) Edgar Diaz, Irma Perez, Cesar Rodriguez, and Quisaira Taranchenko place a hand over their heart at Marlton Elementary School during the ceremony.
New American citizens (from right) Edgar Diaz, Irma Perez, Cesar Rodriguez, and Quisaira Taranchenko place a hand over their heart at Marlton Elementary School during the ceremony. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 11, 2014

At the front of the Marlton Elementary School gym on Monday morning, Melvina Gbarsah, wearing a bright yellow dress and hoop earrings, mouthed the words to Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA."

Two rows behind her, Yan Yun Cheng rested a hand on her pregnant belly while she watched the slide show of American landscapes that accompanied the song. To their right, 82 fourth graders sat respectfully.

Gbarsah and Cheng are brand-new citizens from very different places - Liberia and China, respectively. They had come to Marlton Elementary to be sworn in as citizens alongside 18 other immigrants representing 14 different countries of origin, and the school's fourth-grade class that has been learning all about citizenship this year.

I'm "excited, I'm waiting to explode," Gbarsah said, all smiles.

Gbarsah came to the United States in 1998 at age 5 to get away from a bloody civil war.

The 20 individuals sworn in as American citizens came from all over the globe: South Korea, the United Kingdom, and Guatemala, among others.

I'm "just very happy. It's very high," Cheng said. I'm "very, very happy today coming here."

Before the new citizens received their certificates, the Marlton fourth graders stood and sang "This Is My Country."

I'm "very proud" to be an American, Alexis Yeash, a fourth grader, said after the ceremony.

Yeash, along with her class, has been learning about citizenship and the naturalization process this year. Along the way they took a mock naturalization test - which draws from a pool of 100 questions about American history and government - and developed what they called "bundles," lists of things that an immigrant may bring along from his or her home country.

"I feel happy that I don't have to do all those tests," Joshua Wright, a fourth grader, said of the naturalization exam.

All the students who took the mock citizenship test passed it, though, according to fourth grade teacher Laura Nicholls.

Another fourth grader, Alana Dutcher-Hirsch, chose France as her imaginary country of origin for her bundle. She filled the bundle with pictures and books.

"They remind me of Paris, of France," Dutcher-Hirsch said.

The naturalization ceremonies at Marlton Elementary began just three years ago, according to Nicholls. The experience is rewarding for the students, who, in past years, have used words like emotional and engaging to describe the ceremony and their experience.

"I just think it's probably one of the most meaningful experiences for the students," Nicholls said. For me, "as a citizen, it's amazing. I get teary-eyed every year."

In the end, after the Navy color guard left and the recording of President Obama congratulating the new citizens on their decision had ended, the new American citizens watched as the fourth graders filed past them into the halls. The new citizens represent a long celebrated thread in American pride - diverse cultures, histories and languages coming together as citizens of the same country.

Nicholl's students were rushed to Spanish class - a continuation in their education and the diversity of themselves and their country.


cmindock@phillnews.com

856-779-3237 @clarkmindock

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