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ASU Preparatory Academy students rise up with Hamilton Education Program

Hamilton Education Program Students

ASU Preparatory Academy Phoenix High School students participate in the Hamilton Education Program. Photo by Will Argeros

February 22, 2018

In the Tony Award-winning musical "Hamilton," General George Washington offers these words to his right-hand man, Alexander Hamilton, just before the final battle of the Revolutionary War:

“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known when I was young and dreamed of glory — you have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story.”

Fortunately for Washington, Hamilton and their founding-era contemporaries, the telling of their stories has been placed in the capable hands of high school students from ASU Preparatory Academy Phoenix and 42 other Arizona schools through the Hamilton Education Program.

The program brings the historical and creative aspects of the hit Broadway musical into the classroom and was developed through a collaboration between Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, producer Jeffrey Seller, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, The Rockefeller Foundation and the NYC Department of Public Education.

Also known as “EduHam,” it is offered in select cities where "Hamilton" productions are staged, including Tempe, where the show is currently playing at ASU Gammage through Feb. 25. Through the program, approximately 2,700 Arizona students will take part in an immersive learning experience using history and performing arts.

ASU Prep Phoenix was selected to participate through a competitive application process and 45 of their students are being guided through the program by American history teacher Philip Robertson and English teacher Ashley Yap.

In January, the students began exploring a curriculum focused on Alexander Hamilton and the other Founding Fathers, while developing their own creative works based on their studies — everything from songs and raps to monologues and poetry. The hands-on educational enrichment experience culminates Feb. 23 when the students will attend a special EduHam program at Gammage featuring student performances, a matinee performance of Hamilton and a Q&A with members of the cast.

Robertson felt that the Hamilton Education Program would provide a unique chance for students to forge a stronger connection with history.

“When I saw this opportunity, I knew it would be one of those enriching experiences that blend history with culture and society,” Robertson said. “So when they come around, you have to take advantage of them.” 

Hamilton Education Program teachers work with students around a table

ASU Prep Phoenix teachers Ashley Yap and Philip Robertson guide students through the Hamilton Education Program curriculum. Photo by Will Argeros.

Jordan Cain, a sophomore, and Brian Calo, a senior, are two of the ASU Prep Phoenix students participating in the program. Much like Hamilton, they were not going to throw away their shot at being a part of this experience.

“It’s a good opportunity to see something that’s really popular and well-liked, and at the same time, learn from it,” Calo said. “Because it’s history and history is predominantly what affects our future.”

Cain was already a fan of the music from "Hamilton," but says that studying the primary sources Miranda used to create it has helped her better engage with the history behind it. 

“Actually going through the documents and finding out how accurate he stayed to what was actually said or written made it even more interesting because it wasn’t just entirely fiction. It had truth to it,” she said.

For the performance element of the program, both students say they plan to compose a song with their respective groups. From all the participating schools, 15 groups will be selected to perform their pieces during the EduHam day at Gammage.

Upon completion of the Hamilton Education Program, the ASU Prep Phoenix students will have had the opportunity to learn about the founding of our nation, to exercise their creativity and to attend a performance of one of the most highly regarded theatrical works of our time. They will also have learned firsthand how critical it is to not only keep history’s stories alive, but also the importance of telling their own.

“What’s really cool is they get to see that their interpretation of history and their understanding is valued and that they have something to bring to the table,” Robertson said. “It’s really fun to see those experiences and the amazing performances that they’re putting together.”

To learn more about educational outreach at ASU, visit the Educational Outreach and Student Services Annual Report.

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