One of Melissa Lucero's students couldn't hold back the tears when she received the big news.
Lucero, a social studies teacher at Overland High School, had just told the student and the rest of her class that they'd be getting cheap tickets to "Hamilton," the smash Broadway musical that's currently running at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts on a national tour. Thousands were turned away in the quest to secure tickets to the popular show, but 100 of Lucero's students earned easy access through a unique school project, one that incorporated American history, creativity and performance.
Lucero and her students participated in a project organized by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History that took its cues from the marriage of hip-hop, theater and history that's made "Hamilton" such a success. The participants took part in a four-part process for the project: they examined a timeline of Revolutionary America and Alexander Hamilton's life; analyzed primary source documents used by "Hamilton" writer Lin Manuel Miranda in creating the show; listened to a song from the score and compared it directly to a primary source document; and finally created an original performance piece.
"Students had to choose a person, an event or a document from Revolutionary America," Lucero explained as students recorded their original performances in professional studio space at the district's Institute of Science and Technology on March 1. "They had to do some research and create either a song, a poem, a monologue, a scene or a rap about whatever they chose to research."
The payoff for all of this hard work rooted solidly in historical research was considerable. Not only did students get the chance to see the hot-ticket show for the negligible price of $10 a ticket ("Hamilton" for a Hamilton), but one student from the group may have a chance to perform their original piece on the DCPA stage during a matinee Q&A session at the theater.
Lucero was committed to making sure Overland students were in the running for this unique opportunity. An avid user of the Gilder Lehrman Institute's history resources for classrooms, Lucero responded as soon as she saw the first emails mentioning the project for schools in cities where the touring production would visit.
"Every time I got the email, I signed up to be put on the list," Lucero said. "As soon as it came time to apply, I offered information about the school to make sure we were eligible.
That persistence paid off. Overland is the only school in the Cherry Creek School District that's participating in the project.
According to Lucero, the rewards of the work have gone much deeper than tickets to a popular Broadway show. Students have been taking the cues from "Hamilton" to heart, taking the opportunity to dive deeply into history and draw inspiration for original works. From dramatic dialogues to original poems and raps, the students have been insistent on putting their own stamp on the story of Revolutionary America.
"It's really cool to see kids this engaged in history," Lucero said. "Allowing the students to have this creative outlet has been really fun. The kids are able to be creative – history isn't confined to a textbook."
That much was clear for Peter Kiester and De Shawn Yoakum, who crafted an original rap about Benjamin Franklin for the project. The pair drew on well-known facts and obscure trivia about Franklin for inspiration; their verses touched on Franklin's roles as inventor and scientist, and they rapped about his time as a U.S. ambassador and as the Postmaster General. They even managed to include some of his best-known aphorisms, like "Eat to live, don't live to eat," and, "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."
Some other highlights of the pair's original rap:
"A printer, a writer and a scientist; a poet, inventor and feminist.
He built the first library, and the first streetlight
And we all know 'bout the time when he flew that kite."