SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Not that long ago, it might have seemed impossible to think of Alexander Hamilton’s story as a musical. The same could be said about the idea of bringing every 8th grade student from Monterey County to San Francisco’s Orpheum Theater to see ‘Hamilton’ come to life on stage.
Give almost any 13-year-old kid a ticket to a Broadway musical, and you might expect them to respond like Juan Moreno, a confirmed sports fan.
“I honestly thought it was going to be boring,” said Moreno of his first trip to the theater. “But once, like, we got to the halftime, I really like it.”
Moreno is just one of the thousands of 8th graders who made a bus trip up from Monterey County to see the musical ‘Hamilton’.
The students came from towns all over the County: from Salinas to San Ardo, Parkfield to Prunedale, even Carmel and Castroville. Every 8th grader has gotten an opportunity to see the live stage performance. In total there were 6,000 students, accompanied by 3,000 chaperones.
Former County Supervisor Marc Del Piero came up with this idea as a member of the board of the Dan and Lillian King Foundation. The non-profit had set aside money specifically to educate 8th graders in Monterey County about the United States Constitution.
“Every 8th grader in Monterey County, whether they’re in public school, private school, in a charter school or they’re being home schooled, has been afforded the opportunity to have a ticket to come here,” explained Del Piero.
The board’s executive director decided the foundation couldn’t throw away their shot at such a great opportunity.
“When [Del PIero] first approached me I thought he was nuts,” recalled King Foundation Executive Director Stephen Collins. “[I said] ‘You want to bring 9,000 kids and chaperones to San Francisco? OK.’ And we did it! We pulled it off!”
And every 8th grader means just that, regardless of income level. In fact, the vast majority of students in the county are from lower-income families. The County Office of Education says 75 percent of its students could not afford to pay for an experience like this. And the kids in attendance recognized what a fantastic opportunity it was for all.
“Not everyone gets to go here,” observed student Kayla Jamenez.” It’s like a one in a lifetime…not an event, but like, some people just don’t get to come here.”
Del Piero said that’s a big part of why the foundation spent $1.5 million on what it calls ‘The Constitution Project.’
“Some of these students, even though they live in Monterey County, have never seen the ocean before,” said Del PIero. “Some of these students, the biggest town they’ve ever been to is the city of Salinas.”
And students like Adrian Hernandez Jr. did their homework before the curtain went up.
“It puts more detail into everything that we learned in the classroom,” explained Hernandez Jr.
Olivia Garcia was impressed by the lyrics of the songs, and how well those words related to Hamilton’s life.
“The intro song, ‘Alexander Hamilton,’ we did analysis on that song,” said Garcia. “Because it’s kind of a short summary of his life in a song.”
For Kennedy Rios, seeing Hamilton’s character cheered on by others was inspirational.
“Everyone’s cheering him up, everyone’s telling him, ‘You should go for it!'” said Rios. “‘Go to Princeton,’ because they believe in him and that’s just inspiring to me.”
Ariana Diaz was impressed by how Hamilton served his country.
“He did a lot of stuff for America,” observed Diaz. “He helped shape what America is today.”
And teachers like Gavilan View Middle School’s Mario Torres said the all-day field trip culminates with the words of our Founding Fathers jumping off the pages of a text book for all the students.
“To have these students see the performing arts, and how history really comes alive, it’s just a great opportunity to engulf themselves in history,” said Torres.
Even George Washington himself — or at least the actor portraying ‘POTUS One’ — Darnell Abraham, loves the idea of students in the audience.
“What better way to bring it to life and bring it to the forefront of these kids minds by inviting them into the room, as we say, the room where it happens,” explained Abraham. “And in the process of providing some history to also provide some perspective.”
And thousands more Monterrey County kids could get the same experience next year. The King Foundation has agreed to fund the program again, if ‘Hamilton’ extends its run at the Orpheum Theater.