Since its premiere on the Broadway stage in January of 2015, Hamilton has become a smash hit musical that draws in sold-out audiences from all across the United States. Written by the young and energetic Broadway genius, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton combines contemporary pop culture and United States history to tell the story of the ten dollar Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.
Born as a poor orphan in the Caribbean, Hamilton worked his way up from poverty to greatness as George Washington’s right hand man and the first Secretary of Treasury of the United States. Hamilton’s combination of rap storytelling and beautifully complex characters are unlike anything Broadway has ever seen before. Due to its popularity, tickets are extremely expensive.
About a year ago, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History teamed up with the Rockefeller Foundation to create the Hamilton Education Program. Together, they sponsored a grant that would allow public school students in the New York area learning United States history to enter in a raffle for tickets to see Hamilton at a reduced cost.
Along with seeing the show, the classes chosen to go incorporate Hamilton into their classroom studies, learning from a Student Performance and Study Guide created by the foundation. According to the Gilder Lehrman website, “The Hamilton Education Program is part of the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s broader mission to improve the teaching and learning of American history.”
Mrs. Walden, an English teacher at Westhill, heard about Hamilton from a colleague about two years ago. When it moved to Broadway, Walden was curious as to how the show would utilize community outreach to make the performance more accessible to students and the average American. Walden networked with the New York arts community for a year. When the grant was created for New York public schools, Walden reached out to Gilder Lehrman to see if they would expand the opportunity to the greater New York area so that Westhill students would have a chance. Walden received the call in February that Westhill would be able to participate in the raffle. sixty juniors would have the opportunity to participate in The Hamilton Education Program.
“I am a history buff. I cannot imagine why anyone would not love history. Hamilton is a perfect blend of contemporary pop culture and American history. This exemplifies why history and traditional subjects are important to any education,” said Mrs. Walden, when asked why she wanted her students to be a part of this program.
All Westhill juniors were entered into the raffle. Once the 60 students were chosen, they began participating in workshops to learn this history behind Alexander Hamilton’s story. In the guide given to teachers for the Education program, it states that “at the conclusion of the project, students will have an extensive knowledge of the Founding Era in American history and a greater familiarity with reading and understanding primary sources. They will also be prepared to fully appreciate Hamilton, the musical.”
Students who won the raffle are thrilled to be participatingn in this opportunity. “I am extremely excited to be given the opportunity to see this show. So far we have begun exploring Hamilton’s life as well as those of his peers and the essential documents relating to this time period. I look forward to digging deeper and gaining insight on Hamilton’s experiences, as well as the immense changes taking place in the United States at this time and the impact of their legacy on our lives today,” said Lucy Hart (’18).
The Hamilton program is a unique approach to learning history that engages students and teachers, and takes a closer look at a Founding Father who is not as well known as Jefferson or Washington. It is thanks to Mrs. Walden that 60 Westhill juniors have the opportunity to see a revolutionary, Tony award-winning Broadway musical while taking a deeper look into the creation of its story.