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    Students Take Center Stage at ‘Hamilton’ Performance
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    Esai Contreras poses for a photo at the Hamilton set

    Students Take Center Stage at ‘Hamilton’ Performance: Integrated Arts Supports Identity Safety

    Before the show’s emcee could finish announcing his entrance, thunderous shouts of support erupted from the Rainier Beach section of the auditorium at the Paramount Theatre, “ESAI! ESAI! ESAI!”

    A rapper and poet since he was 11 years old, Esai Contreras of Rainier Beach High School was chosen to perform a rap he wrote about Alexander Hamilton’s life and hardships. On his catalyst for entering the competition, “I write every day. Writing’s just natural. So, when they were like, you have to write an assignment for ‘Hamilton’ to get in, I was like, yup, that’s easy. I’ll do that right now.”

    On March 8 and 14, more than 5,700 high school students from across the Pacific Northwest gathered at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle. Students from Cleveland STEM High School, Interagency Academy, Franklin High School, Seattle World School and Rainier Beach High School spent several weeks studying the curriculum created about the “Hamilton” era, culminating in a day at the theatre.

    High school junior Esai is a believer in the power of the arts as a tool for self-expression. “I would love to see everybody else make a song, write something like a poem, draw, act out, sing, play an instrument, really anything! I just want to see more kids in the same position. To say, ‘This is what it feels like to be in front of 3,000 people,’ I hope there’s more opportunities like that!”

    The Hamilton Education Program was brought to Seattle through a partnership of Seattle Theatre Group (STG), Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and “Hamilton.” Tickets were offered at a subsidized rate for students through an educational partnership with Google.org.

    As part of the Hamilton Education Program curriculum, students had the opportunity to attend a special matinee performance of the hit Broadway musical, cheer on their peers as they performed original “Hamilton” era performance pieces and participate in a cast Q&A.

    Namaka Auawe poses for a photo on the Hamilton set“I performed a poem on stage, which was amazing. My poem was about a Native American British officer,” said Namaka Auawe, a junior at Franklin High School. “When we got the project, I knew immediately I wanted to write about somebody that was Native American. I’m indigenous, I’m Native Hawaiian. I knew from the beginning I wanted to tell a story that wasn’t being told.”

    Namaka was one of the Seattle Public Schools students selected to perform on the Paramount stage.

    Like her peers on stage, she had been researching Revolutionary War era times in both her History and Language Arts classrooms. Studies have shown music is a powerful tool that can create an emotional connection to the curriculum.

    Classrooms across the district are integrating visual and performing arts into the curriculum of classes like history and language arts. Using the arts to teach other subjects supports learners in making connections across subject areas, thinking critically about the content and finding personal correlation into the narrative, while expanding access and interest in the arts.

    Saiyana Suzumura and Kahlia Devenaro pose for photo outside a school buildingSaiyana Suzumura and Kahlia Devenaro, juniors at Cleveland STEM High School, represented their school on stage during the March 8 special student showing. Their spoken word poem, “Perspective,” shared the point of view of a slave in America during the late 1700s. Saiyana speaks to her inspiration for writing, “History is all written by the white man. I’m trying to learn about my own history. I always think about black people’s side of the story. That’s why I came up with this poem.”

    Namaka Auwae echoes the sentiments of her peer in finding deeper learning in a diverse curriculum, “I want more native voices spoken in history. I want our stories to be told finally. It provides a learning experience for everyone.”

    Seattle Public Schools strives to meet the challenge of responsiveness to the educational needs of all students. To eliminate opportunity gaps, the district has committed to creating positive learning environments for students that are inclusive and support belonging and identity safety. Identity-safe classrooms and schools ensure students that their social identities are an asset, rather than a barrier to success in the classroom.

    Read more about the district’s strategies to eliminate opportunity gaps.

    Read more about how the district is investing in Visual and Performing Arts education.