Students at Rancho Milpitas Middle School had the opportunity to ask questions and take photos with Isaiah Johnson, who plays George Washington in the musical that plays in San Francisco through August, after they won second place in the Newsela Bay Area Reading Challenge. Newsela is an educational website focused on building student reading comprehension by providing news articles and assessments at different levels for students in second through 12th grades.
The three-week reading challenge, April 17 through May 5, intended to “promote empathy and inclusivity through reading,” through Newsela’s “A Mile In Our Shoes” program. The three Bay Area schools with the highest scores — San Jose-based Kipp Heritage Academy, Rancho and Oakland-based Hillcrest Elementary School — won visits from cast members of “Hamilton,” out of 667 participants.
Rancho Principal Casey McMurray said the school has been using Newsela for three years to offer news about current events at different reading levels, but said this was the first competition the school really got behind.
“Some of the staff were ‘Hamilton’ fans, Ken Chiu, a math teacher, took the lead” in encouraging students to read as many articles as they could, McMurray said after the May 24 visit.
“We set up times after school, we had students reading the articles at home,” McMurray said. He said Chiu wanted to “break the Internet” with how many articles the students were reading.
McMurray said it was exciting and fulfilling to know the school worked really hard and put a lot of effort into this competition to place in the top three.
Students at Rancho read 22,000 articles and seventh-grader Megan Tseng was the top reader with 900 articles read during the competition, he said.
Many of the students at school were already familiar with the play “Hamilton,” with some students being able to rap songs from the show, McMurray said.
“Hamilton,” in the words of its creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda, is about our nation’s first treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton, who in his words “embodies hip hop.” Miranda introduced his musical at an evening of poetry, music and the spoken word at the White House on May 12, 2009.
“He was born a penniless orphan in St. Croix of illegitimate birth, became George Washington’s right hand man, became treasury secretary, caught beef with every other founding father, and all on the strength of his writing, I think he embodies the word’s ability to make a difference,” Miranda recited to the crowd in 2009, which included President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama.
Ria Agrawal, a seventh grade Rancho student, said she enjoyed the assembly and was excited to meet a “Hamilton” cast member.
“It paid off for all the hard work that we did,” Agrawal said.
Anderson Lin, also in seventh grade, added, “It was a great experience to learn about the life of Hamilton.”
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