CPS students get a “shot” with Hamilton Education Program

Hamilton’s Education Program kicked off its second year in Chicago Oct. 18 at the CIBC Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St., where 1,900 students gathered for a matinee performance and a Q&A with the cast.

By Molly Walsh

Chicago Public Schools did not “throw away their shot” at being “in the room where it happens,” to quote lyrics from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical “Hamilton”–the show that offers select students history lessons and a free performance.

CPS participated in the start of “The Hamilton Education Program” for the second year in a row Oct. 18 at CIBC Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St.

 Nearly 2,000 students and teachers from 27 CPS schools attended the matinee performance of “Hamilton” after spending six weeks in the classroom studying American history with a strong emphasis on Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the treasury, and other Founding Fathers, according to Hamilton Education Program Manager Amy DiChristina. 

 “It is a really exciting and new way to interact with history,” DiChristina said. “What we hear time and time again from students and teachers is they have a new appreciation for the history.”

 The musical’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and producer, Jeffrey Seller, worked closely with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History—a nonprofit organization dedicated to American history—and writer Ron Chernow to create an educational component to go with the musical, DiChristina said. Chernow is the author of “Alexander Hamilton,” the biography on which the musical is based. 

Students at the Oct.18 CIBC event got to perform pieces onstage inspired by Hamilton and the musical. They also participated in a Q&A with “Hamilton” cast members before attending the matinee performance. 

 Daniel Ferrara, a U.S. History teacher at CICS Ralph Ellison High School, 1817 W. 80th St., said he wrote his own rap about The Battles of Lexington and Concord to perform for his students. 

 Influenced by Miranda, the musical’s creator, Ferrara taught a lesson using hip-hop as background for a class project and the play itself. 

 “You can see the excitement building for something that normally kids on the South Side don’t care about,” Ferrara said. “When do they care about Alexander Hamilton? How does that have any effect on their [lives]? It’s a different way to learn things, and that’s better than me up there for 50 minutes just going ‘OK, in 1776, this happened.’” 

Joshua Campbell, Rashaad Whaley and Neiman Williams, three juniors in Ferrara’s class, performed a song they wrote called “Same Team” onstage at CIBC before the Oct. 18 matinee.  

 The students sperformance juxtaposes the racist legacy in the U.S. with the current political climate, Williams said.  

 “I like learning new things,” Whaley said, “so when we [were] learning about the history and things before us, it was just eye opening.”  

 Campbell said the experience helped him learn to use history to pave a road for the future that will improve upon the past. 

 Students feel like they can be a part of history after watching Hamilton because the characters are historic figures with diverse backgrounds, DiChristina said. 

 “[Students] have a new connection to the history that they’re learning about in their classrooms because they’re able to do it in such a unique way where they can use these wonderful songs that are all historically accurate and have a lot of integrity to them,” DiChristina said. “They can find a piece of the founding era that connects with them and express it through a creative performance piece.”