Roseville students learn by making their own ‘Hamilton’

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published March 15, 2019

 Roseville High School senior Kaytlin O’Herron shows off her variation of “God’s Plan,” by Drake, which she wrote about the life of Alexander Hamilton, to her classmates junior Meghan VanDamme and junior Abby Barnett.

Roseville High School senior Kaytlin O’Herron shows off her variation of “God’s Plan,” by Drake, which she wrote about the life of Alexander Hamilton, to her classmates junior Meghan VanDamme and junior Abby Barnett.

Photo by Brendan Losinski

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ROSEVILLE — Forty students at Roseville High School are getting ready to take their shot by participating in a program that gives them a chance to create their own historical project inspired by the musical “Hamilton.”

The students, who joined through the school’s Advanced Placement history program, will create a project based on American history by following the same writing process as “Hamilton” creator Lin Manuel Miranda before getting to see a production of the musical at the Fisher Theatre in April.

“There’s an organization (the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History) that partnered up with Lin Manuel Miranda to work to make the play accessible to students while educating them on the era as well,” said social studies teacher Emily Collias, who is overseeing the program at Roseville High School. “It is often costly to see a performance such as ‘Hamilton,’ and it is open to schools that qualify as Title I eligible, so these schools often have a need for assistance to see it.”

The students will examine historical sources and find inspiration for their creation.

“Students have to engage with documents from the Founding Fathers’ era, look at resources, create their own project based on what they learn — whether it be a song, a scene or a poem,” said Collias. “We have to do a series of lessons for them that lead up to this final project.”

The program is being done by schools across the United States, and each class is following the example of Miranda.

“We follow a four-step process, and each of those steps follow the same process Lin Manuel Miranda did when he was writing ‘Hamilton,’” said junior Meghan VanDamme. “We are looking at documents, we analyze them and we break them down to make something new. I’m taking the Boston Tea Party and turning it into a poem.”

The project is done over the course of two months. They will attend a performance by the professional touring cast of “Hamilton” April 18 for a reduced ticket price of $10 to cap off their experience.

“We submit our best piece from our students to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and they get to go to the Fisher Theatre and perform it for other students if it is picked,” Collias said. “They will get to do a Q&A with the cast of Hamilton after the performance.”

The students’ projects were varied, but all looked to Miranda’s example and tried to look at an aspect of American history from a new perspective.

“I remixed the words to “God’s Plan,” by Drake, and made it about Hamilton’s affair,” said senior Kaytlin O’Herron. “I thought about the songs from the (Hamilton) soundtrack and looked for a song that was similar. Then I thought about the story of Hamilton and how I could apply it.”

Collias said she thinks Hamilton has been so successful and so popular with young people because it upends the attitude that history is boring and dusty and gets to the compelling stories and emotion underneath.

“I think students sometimes at their age don’t always see ways history can come to life, and see it as something accessible,” Collias explained. “‘Hamilton’ takes history and portrays it in a way that is easier for a lot of people to connect with today.”

The students expressed their excitement at getting to take part in the program and getting to see the hit Broadway musical.

“We’re very lucky to have this opportunity. We can’t wait to go see the performance after going through this process and see what went into making it,” said VanDamme. “Most people who don’t (do this program) see the musical and don’t get the background we do.”

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