By Tammy French
For the Forks Forum
On March 8, 3,000 high school students from all over Washington lined up in the rain outside the Paramount Theater in Seattle. Fifty-three Forks students joined the crowds on the sidewalks towering over the I-90. All of the schools had been offered the opportunity to experience the cutting edge and highly reviewed “Hamilton,” a musical exploring the life and triumphs of founding father Alexander Hamilton through hip hop beats and a multicultural cast.
The creators of “Hamilton” teamed up with the Rockefeller Foundation, education resource organization Gilder Lehrman and local foundations to create an educational opportunity to Title I schools through a lesson plan and an exclusive Hamilton performance. The students were required to complete a lesson on reading the primary sources and official documents of the American Revolution. Upon reading the primary sources, students were to use those documents to inspire a creative writing assignment, such as a song, poem, rap, skit or story. No ticket would be issued without the completed assignment.
The Forks students boarded the bus at 5 a.m. on Thursday morning. We had a four hour drive to get to downtown Seattle. With sack lunches in hand, the students filed into the majestic Paramount Theater. The venue itself was a representation of the indulgences of the roaring 1920s, reinforcing the lessons the 11th grade curriculum offers in the Industrial Revolution, post-World War I society, and “The Great Gatsby.” Through some great fortune, Forks High School was assigned the front center rows of the mezzanine. Our seats were so close to the stage that the students recalled holding eye contact with the cast through the entire performance.
The morning portion of the education program included stellar student performances of their creative writing projects. The talent was inspiring to the thousands of students and chaperones in the theater. Following the performances was a question and answer session with the cast of the show. The cast explained the importance of knowing our national history and using primary sources to better understand the truth. They hoped to inspire youth to participate in our democratic process while relating to them through hip hop themes.
The Hamilton Education program coordinated with the Seattle Police Department and AMC movie theaters to grant the 3,000 participants space in a nearby movie theater to eat our lunches. Throngs of teens took over the sidewalks as they were escorted to and from the movie theater. This portion of the day could be filed under crowd tolerance and escalator practice.
When we got back from lunch, it was showtime. We took our outstanding seats and prepared for what has been called an American masterpiece. As the lights dimmed, most students had never seen a musical and wondered whether they could handle over two hours of singing about our first Secretary of Treasury. The thespians of the school were out of their minds with anticipation. They knew every single word, they had imagined every single character, and were preemptively attached to the storyline.
The show begins with King George III announcing his omnipotent power over the colonists and theater-goers. He urged the audience to silence their cellphones. Our students complied. In fact, I am proud to say that our group of students from Forks High School exhibited the best behavior of any group of students present. Every student sat enraptured by “Hamilton.” There was no talking or texting among them, only tears and laughter. When the curtain came down, the students were stunned. One of my students who had never seen a musical before said, “I could have sat through another three hours of that!”
We continued our evening with dinner at Gameworks and a windy walk through Seattle at dusk to the ferry terminal. The students were exhilarated. They stared at the architecture and reveled at the sights of the city. They contemplated what it would be like to live in a large city. They took their turns holding strong against the wind on the deck of the ferry as we returned to Bainbridge Island. They were sharing a great moment with their friends and peers as they stare down the end of high school fast approaching.
The effects of the field trip were easily evidenced in school on Friday. Students who attended proudly proclaimed how much they enjoyed the show. They let their peers know that appreciating art and culture is cool and one should always take opportunities to learn more. My students begged to play songs from the play as we transitioned back to learning about World War II in US History class. Everyone agreed that the King stole the show. They reflected upon their experiences, their knowledge of our nation’s history and their desire to learn more.
I am so grateful to “Hamilton” and the organizations who created this opportunity for thousands of students all over the country. Collaborations such as this are essential to teaching our students about the world around them. I am appreciative of the school administrators, staff and teachers who made it happen. This could not have been such a success if it had not been for the students who dedicated an early morning, an 18 hour day and the greatest manners to see Hamilton. Our group proved to the world that Forks students are great. We have set up a new History Club to offer future cultural endeavors.
With full gratitude in my heart, the students and I want to thank the Forks community for the donations. The people of Forks consistently prove their love for their children. With the help of Forks Forum, many stepped up to support the school in offering this opportunity to our students. The Soroptomist International of the Olympic Rain Forest, the Elks Club, LLoyd J Allen Charitable Trust, and many private citizens of Forks and beyond donated money to this cause.
Tammy French is a history teacher at Forks High School