‘Hamilton’ revisited

Photo provided by Bay Shore School District

‘Hamilton’ revisited

Story By: RICK CHALIFOUX
4/14/2016


BAY SHORE—On March 30, the entire Bay Shore High School junior class (plus some lucky seniors selected through a lottery for a total of nearly 50) boarded 11 coach buses and headed to Manhattan to see the new smash hit play “Hamilton” on Broadway.  The trip was fully funded through generous community donations made through the Bay Shore Schools Arts Education Fund (BSSAEF).  It provided an opportunity for the students to see the acclaimed show about America’s founding fathers at no cost to them whatsoever. It also provided some with their first Broadway experience.

Planning for the trip began more than a year ago, when the BSSAEF’s Susan Barbash saw the show and immediately had the idea to bring students to see it. A committee comprised of administrators, teachers, students and community members worked tirelessly to plan the trip and fundraise the $85,000 necessary to cover the cost. Faculty in the Social Studies and English departments also put together pieces of curriculum that would supplement the trip.

“It was an amazing day,” said Barbash. “I’ve heard feedback from students, teachers and parents, and every single person said it was a great experience. The show lives up to its hype every time. Now is a very good time to get kids excited about American history.”

Throughout the week prior to the trip, students in 11th-grade U.S. History classes revisited the founding fathers they had studied earlier in the school year.  Although an emphasis was placed on Alexander Hamilton, all of the founders were reviewed. Students looked at a variety of sources – both primary and secondary – about the founding of America.  They also read excerpts of biographies by Ron Chernow and Willard Sterne Randall.  In light of the information contained in the sources, students were asked to consider a key question: Should history remember Hamilton as the founding father?  They were asked to formulate a position prior to viewing the show and then see whether the show changed their opinion in any way.

“The trip was evidence of the uniquely mature and respectful nature of Bay Shore High School’s young adults,” said Social Studies Director Joseph Lemke. “Recognizing the extraordinary generosity of the community and our good fortune to work and learn in Bay Shore, the students rose to the occasion and took full advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.” 

The English Department also worked with students during the year on viewing stories through multiple lenses. This is a technique employed by “Hamilton,” as the title character is viewed through his own eyes, the eyes of those who loved him, and the eyes of his enemies. Students also learned about the spoken-word genre, which is used throughout the musical. 

They had an opportunity to work with spoken-word artists who had residencies earlier this year. (Artists-in-residence are generously funded through the BSSAEF and spend anywhere from one-to-three days to one-to-three weeks working with students.)  Two days after the “Hamilton” trip, students were able to further explore storytelling and spoken word at the annual Ethnic Pen conference. This year’s event featured a keynote from author Kevin Powell and workshops with spoken-word artists.

Excitement for the trip also spread to the Cultural Arts Department.  Senior Joy Norris choreographed a dance to the song “My Shot” from Act I of “Hamilton.” The number, which featured 35 student dancers, was performed at a BSSAEF benefit in January.

One of the most exciting parts of the trip was the opportunity for Bay Shore students to interact with the cast after the show.  The Social Studies Department created a blog prior to the trip where students could submit questions to be asked during the “talk back.”  After the show, students moved closer to the stage as, one by one, cast members began emerging from the wings.  Students cheered as Daveed Diggs (Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson), Jonathan Groff (King George), Okieriete Onaodowan (Hercules Mulligan/James Madison), Renee Elise Goldsberry (Angelica Schuyler), David Guzman (Ensemble), Sasha Hutchings (Ensemble) and Javier Munoz (Alexander Hamilton) talked about how they did in school (Hutchings was valedictorian of her high school and Munoz originally planned to study engineering!) and how their individual heritage impacts their view of “Hamilton” and the founding fathers.

“These were the hippest people our kids have ever seen, and all of them were super hardworking,” noted Barbash. “The real message to our students was that to be anything, you have to put in the hours with full commitment.”

“What an amazing experience for our students and staff!” said High School Principal Robert Pashkin. “It was a very proud day for Bay Shore High School and the Bay Shore community! The show was outstanding and the question-and-answer session with the cast following the show was a very special, unique opportunity!”

“I would like to thank everybody involved in the project,” said Superintendent of Schools Joseph Bond. “It gave our kids an authentic learning experience which they will carry with them for years to come. Kudos to the Board of Education and the Arts Education Fund for making this trip possible.”

“Thank you to Susan Barbash and the BSSAEF for making this trip a reality for our students!” read a statement from the district. “Thank you to all of the generous donors who helped to meet the fundraising goal!  Thank you to the ‘Hamilton’ committee for all of the hard work that went into planning the trip, fundraising and creating curriculum!  Thank you to the cast of ‘Hamilton’ for spending their time with our students and making an already wonderful experience that much more memorable!

“When the Bay Shore High School Class of 2017 holds its reunions, they’ll tell the story of tonight!”