"I am not throwing away my shot” – Hamilton Musical Inspires Cultural Diversity in the Classroom

"Look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now. History is happening in Manhattan and we just happen to be in the greatest city in the world."

- “The Schuyler Sisters” by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Hamilton: An American Musical

It’s fitting that a native New Yorker, Lin-Manuel Miranda, gave us the Broadway hit, Hamilton: An American Musical. He rewrote the history books so that his cast of characters reflected the rich, cultural capital New York is known to be. If you want to see a reflection of this amazing diversity, you need look no further than a NYC public school classroom.

Using "Hamilton" in the Classroom

In New York City, 400 public school teachers got free tickets to "Hamilton" and the chance to bring the musical's historical themes and lessons about immigration and diversity into the classroom. (March 27, 2017)

Barclays, recognizing the connection between the Hamilton experience and the melting pot that are our 1,800 schools, teamed up with the NYC DOE’s Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Learning, Teach For America – New York, and The Fund for Public Schools to provide the experience for 400 teachers to actually see Hamilton in mid-February.

Before the performance, Barclays hosted a panel discussion with actors and the associate director of Hamilton, and heard remarks from NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

A month later, Barclays invited teachers to a professional development opportunity designed to help the educators translate the lessons of Hamilton into creating culturally inclusive classrooms.

Split across two days, both groups of teachers had a chance to listen to guest speaker Dr. Chris Emdin, an expert in the field of urban public education. Attendees received a copy of Dr. Emdin’s best-selling book, White Folks Who Teach in the Hood … And the Rest of Y’all Too. Many of the teachers had already heard of Dr. Emdin’s high-energy speaking style, and he did not disappoint.

Bounding around the room to the delight of his audience, Dr. Emdin wowed the crowd with his love of connecting hip-hop culture to learning. “Let them know that you appreciate their culture,” he said while talking about building a bridge between student and teacher. Dr. Emdin spoke of feeling comfortable and sometimes letting the student become the teacher. “When you are teaching students and create the opportunity for them to teach you, teaching no longer becomes passive.”

Nadira, a middle-school teacher out of Brownsville, Brooklyn, shared her attempt of bringing hip-hop to her classroom even before seeing Hamilton. “I grew up within hip-hop culture,” she said, smiling brightly while waiting in line to get Dr. Emdin’s autograph. “And I like to give my students a chance to explore. I let them perform their songs and their rhymes hoping that they connect their lyrics and metaphors to a deeper, complex understanding of the material.”

Teachers then attended one of three breakout sessions led by the NYC DOE Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Learning team. Participants engaged in a lesson planning workshop, where they collaborated to design activities and develop classroom structures and routines that reflected Dr. Emdin’s strategies. Roger Ball, a Soundview Academy vice-principal, was grateful for the breakout sessions and participated enthusiastically.

When asked what he would like his teachers to bring back to the classroom from Hamilton, Roger said, “I think a lot of it is what we talked about today in the workshop which is to engage students through their own cultural lens and experiences. To start with where the students are. To speak the language that students understand with images and language and culture that are familiar images and sounds to them. And then use that as the jump-off point for content. In other words culture and content matches. Culture gives birth to content rather than content giving birth to culture.”

This program was made possible through a partnership with Barclays as part of its commitment to supporting innovation, diversity and preparing the next generation for the jobs of tomorrow. "We are delighted to support invaluable initiatives like this that seek to promote growth and positive change in the communities where we work and live,” said Barbara Byrne, Vice Chairman, Barclays.

We invite you to learn more about the diversity programs we support, and to consider joining our ever-growing list of generous funders who support NYC’s future leaders.

David Belsky