EAST CHICAGO — The Broadway musical "Hamilton" brought history to life for a group of East Chicago Central High School students who saw the performance in Chicago.

Hamilton is the story of America's founding father Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became George Washington's right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and was the new nation's first treasury secretary.

The musical blends hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B and Broadway to recount the story of America during that time. The music, lyrics and book were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and were inspired by the 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton by historian Ron Chernow.

The Central High School students were among 1,900 students who attended the matinee performance of the musical at the CIBC Theatre at 18 W. Monroe St. Attendance at the show is the culmination of an integrated school curriculum about Hamilton and the Founding Era, developed in partnership with the New York-based Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History to inspire creative ways of studying and learning history.

In addition to seeing the performance of Hamilton, students participated in a Q&A session with members of the cast.

Central High School junior Nayeli Arredondo said students take U.S. history in their junior year, and she thought it was a unique way to learn about the nation's history.

"It's not just about Hamilton but also about his role in history and the people around him and their contributions," she said. "The play gave you a real visual representation of that time period."

Arredondo said the play showed how immigrants came to America to build a new life just as they do today.

"One of the songs was specifically about immigrants, many of whom are willing to do work that Americans are not willing to do," she said.

Central senior T'aira Walker said the musical was much more interesting than just reading about it in books.

"They created a fun way to present the material and made it interesting and easy for teens to understand," she said.

Central senior Rene Castillo said normally teachers put the curriculum in front of students and just say, "Here's what you have to learn," and that makes it seem almost superficial.

"The book skips over things that happen in real life, like he (Hamilton) had an affair, and I didn't know that, and there were a lot of lies being told by people and it skips over the stuff that made America what it is today. The things that happened in those times are not new. These are things that happened over and over again in our history," he said.

Central senior Benjanae Harvey said when she read the material in the book, she didn't understand it as clearly until she saw the play.

"It not only showed us what happened in the past, but it definitely showed us how history repeats itself. There were corrupt politicians then and there are corrupt politicians now," she said.

Central senior David Avila was one of several students who had a chance to go on stage and perform a poem for the Hamilton cast, and all of the teachers and students there.

"It seemed to be pretty well-received," he said.

Central English teacher Alex Ortiz said her students learned exactly what she wanted them to learn from the event.

"Not many children from urban communities like East Chicago get a chance to attend a Broadway musical," she said. "I wanted to introduce students to Broadway musicals and to make sure they know they can overcome any obstacle to reach their dream."

Much like the Broadway performance, the Hamilton Education Program is one of several history education programs at the New York-based Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Educators say it embraces creative genius, transcending a lecture-driven classroom to emphasize the talents and passions of individual students.

Tim Bailey, with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, helped to develop the curriculum for the Hamilton Education Program. 

He said the educational program has three primary objectives — to engage students about the learning of American history, particularly the founding era; to make sure that students are taught the content and understand the founding principles of the nation; and to appreciate the sacrifices of what it took to get this nation started against amazing odds and make sure students walk away from the presentation with a set of skills.

"The curriculum is designed so that students learn how to use textural evidence and analysis skills and be able to take those pieces and understand and analyze it themselves, and the ability to write about what they learned using those higher level thinking skills," Bailey said.


Education reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.