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Board approves plan for some students to experience 'Hamilton'

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL  |  Posted Oct 12th, 2017 @ 4:11pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — A member of the Utah State Board of Education raised concerns Thursday about a partnership that will provide $10 tickets to a Salt Lake performance of "Hamilton" as part of an educational program for rural and low-income students.

Board member Lisa Cummins, during a discussion of the agreement among the parties teaming to provide a student matinee of the hit Broadway musical on May 4, 2018, cautioned that the State School Board needs to be careful about "what we put our name on."

While Cummins acknowledged the popularity of the hit Broadway musical, she questioned whether "Hamilton" is consistent with the board's responsibility to "teach the truth."

"Just because something is popular doesn't mean we jump on the bandwagon," Cummins said.

But other board members, such as Spencer Stokes, said he had the opportunity to watch the education initiative in action in Chicago. While the script does contain some vulgarity, parents were advised of the content in required disclosure forms.

Stokes said Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, after seeing "Hamilton," got excited about the prospect of teaching underserved students about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton by creating a means for low-income students and students in rural Utah to see the show when it is performed at the Eccles Theater.

Stokes said that when he saw it, it was eye-opening and he learned aspects of Hamilton's history he did not know or fully appreciate before seeing "Hamilton," which he described as "remarkable experience" for students.

Meanwhile, board member Linda Hansen expressed concern about the cost of the experience, which will be $10 a ticket per student, but may still be too much for very poor households. "I just don't want to see any kids left behind," she said.

Tickets for Salt Lake performances in April and May range from $500 to more than $1,050, according to some ticketing websites.

Education specialist Tamera Burnside said the ticket price is intended to ensure students have "some buy-in" with respect to the performance and educational opportunity.

Cummins said she also had concerns about the historical accuracy of the musical and coarse language in some lyrics. "Are we really teaching what happened and not just a musical that shares vulgarity?"

When put to a vote, a majority of the board members approved the memorandum of understanding among the Utah State Board of Education, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the state Department of Heritage and Arts, Broadway Across America and Salt Lake County. Board members Cummins, Michelle Boulter and Joel Wright voted against the agreement.

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Under the terms of the memorandum, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of America will offer the program to 11th-grade students who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch or live in rural Utah. Participating 11th-graders must be enrolled in an American history course at the time of the performance.

Schools will be selected on a first-come, first-served basis, according to the memorandum.

The state Department of Heritage and Arts and the State School Board are teaming to pay salary of a part-time "Hamilton" education coordinator for one year, according to school board documents. Funding for the initiative, $350,000, was appropriated by the Utah Legislature.

In addition to providing deeply reduced priced tickets, associated costs such as transportation, meals and in some cases lodging, will also be covered so there will be no cost to participating school districts.

Burnside said the goal is to provide experiences for a segment of students who likely would not get an opportunity to otherwise see the musical.

She described the opportunity to see the Tony Award-winning musical and participate in the educational programming, which includes them creating their performance pieces, as "life changing."

According to the Eccles Theater website, "'Hamilton' is the story of America’s Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became George Washington’s right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and was the new nation’s first treasury secretary."

It is based on the book, music and lyrics of Lin-Manuel Miranda. The score blends "hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B and Broadway," the website states.

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