Outside the Fox Theatre in St. Louis on April 11, lines of students and teachers eagerly awaited to watch the hit Broadway musical, “Hamilton.”
They were among students from 42 schools across the region participating in the Hamilton Education Program created by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The program, also known as EduHam, allows public high schools from lower-income areas the opportunity to see and learn American history through "Hamilton."
Amy DiChristina, manager of the Hamilton Education Program, said the program’s goal is to open up access to the musical to students who might not otherwise be able to watch “Hamilton” or be familiar with theater. Students participating in the education program were able to see the musical for only $10.
“[The goal is] also, at the same time, [for students to] do an in-depth study of the history of the show,” DiChristina said. Prior to seeing the show, students completed research projects following the same creative process playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda used when creating “Hamilton.”
The musical is known for its multi-ethnic cast, which has prompted many conversations about race.
“Just the mere fact that [students] are being exposed to performers that look like them … really kind of opens up the students to think about things in a different way,” DiChristina said.
Part of EduHam’s curriculum includes a website that incorporates interviews of original cast members talking about how they felt being people of color portraying the white Founding Fathers, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
“When the students start to see some of those interviews, it opens up how they look at history so when they’re doing their own research, they’re able to find things that are out of the box,” she said. “And that’s when they’re able to connect.”
EduHam in the classroom
McCluer North social studies teacher Adam Bender incorporated the EduHam curriculum into his American Studies class. At first, he said he didn’t know much about “Hamilton” besides it being a pop-culture phenomenon. He then came across Gilder Lehrman’s program when a friend tagged him in a Facebook post calling for school submissions.
He applied for the opportunity and was selected six months later, in early March.
“The next day I immediately was like ‘Hey, anybody want to go to ‘Hamilton?’” And everyone was super excited,” Bender said. After the performance, Bender reflected on the whole program with his students in class.
DiChristina said she hopes to see teachers use other Gilder Lehrman resources to continue in-depth research using primary documents for other creative projects.
“The curriculum that we give them for this program is easy replicable with other parts of American or world history,” she said.
Since his classes are intensive and lecture-based, Bender said EduHam was a “nice supplement” to what he normally does, in addition to the other creative projects he assigns.
“I will try to do more of those types of projects,” he said. “Incorporating more music from the eras and even music about those eras would be another thing I can probably take away from [EduHam].”
As part of the program, 35 students were chosen to perform original songs in front of nearly 4,000 people at the Fox Theatre, including the touring cast of the musical.
Bender reached out to acting students Dylan Bozeman, Payton Woodruff and Dacia Slater to submit a performance piece to represent McCluer North, a high school in Florissant. Other participating schools included Grand Center Arts Academy and Confluence Preparatory Academy.
“[Bozeman, Woodruff and Slater] came up with this really good creative piece and it was super impressive and I guess the Gilder Lehrman people agreed because they obviously got selected,” Bender said.
As someone who’s been to every EduHam in various cities, DiChristina said the St. Louis students were some of the best she’s ever seen.
“They were extremely historically accurate in covering a wide range of topics,” she said. “The student performers were very confident and it was clear that they had done their research. And we were just really super impressed by St. Louis.”
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