History comes to life

Five CMS high schools participated in the Hamilton Education Program (EduHam), which is giving 250,000 students in Title I schools nationwide the opportunity to see the hit musical Hamilton.

Harding University, West Mecklenburg (pictured), West Charlotte, Garinger and Vance high school students participated in the educational partnership between Hamilton producers, the family of Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The institute provides classroom resources on Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers for students and teachers, as well as the opportunity to see Hamilton.

Charlotte is one of 14 cities where EduHam is available this school year. CMS students attended a Nov. 1 performance for $10 – the bill with Hamilton's portrait. School groups had a full day filled with workshops, behind-the-scenes tours and time with the Hamilton cast before the show began.

Stephanie Kelly was one of three teachers at Harding University who used the EduHam program. She was familiar with the Gilder Lehrman Institute and applied early for the opportunity to participate. Students focused on Hamilton for two weeks and had access to materials that included an online database with videos from the original cast, booklets and the show's soundtrack. They were required to create an original performance piece of their own – a song, rap, poem or skit – to illustrate what they had learned.

Abigail Sosa, 16, who is from Puerto Rico, and a fellow student from Honduras performed a dialogue/interview about what the U.S. Constitution and Hamilton mean to them.

"This was the first time I had heard about him," Abigail said. "It was so interesting. I learned a lot of things from doing the project."

Tyler Chisum, 16, and Destiny McAdams and Princess Campbell, both 17, performed a skit about the Constitutional Convention. Tyler said the EduHam resources and activities helped her grasp the concepts.

"That's how I learn best," Tyler said, "not with notes – that's boring."

Kelly said not only were many students unfamiliar with Hamilton, but also with his namesake musical and theater in general. She said they didn't know what to expect from the EduHam experience, but as they worked on their projects, they appreciated how research and creativity helped them learn history.

"They said, 'But Ms. Kelly, they don't even talk like they're talking history,' and I told them, 'That's the point, to step out of the box,'" she said. "At the end, we were focusing more on review than content because they had already taught each other through their performance pieces."

West Meck teacher Aaron Hayes said EduHam was a lot of work for students and teachers, but the lessons learned and seeing Hamilton were unforgettable.

"This play was powerful," said student Gabriel Smith of West Meck. "I could relate to many of the characters and topics discussed. I realize you can learn from so many different forms of media and entertainment."

Shaiann Austin Allison of West Meck said seeing Hamilton was an extraordinary experience.

"I feel like, since the play, I have a whole other perspective on life and I appreciate everything even more," Shaiann said. "I now have a visual idea of what so many people went through and died so America can be what it is today."

For more information on EduHam, click here.