HHS students gifted experience of a lifetime

Published 11:07 am Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Through the work of Harlan High School history teacher Megan Freyer and Superintendent C.D. Morton, juniors and seniors had an all-expense overnight paid trip to Nashville, Tenn., and the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in what many have referred to as the greatest trip they have ever taken. In addition to watching Hamilton, students participated in a meet and greet session with cast members, set directors, and stage managers. They also had guided tours to the Tennessee State Capital, The Parthenon and had dinner at Hard Rock Café in downtown Nashville.

Freyer was ecstatic when she was notified of the opportunity in late August through a grant with The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, which covered the cost of the tickets for HHS students.

“I had a hard time wiping the smile off my face once I read the email that we had been selected as a recipient. I was just so excited to be able to share this remarkable opportunity with our amazing students. Our students work so hard to represent our school and community well, it was just felt wonderful to give them this gift,” Freyer said. “When we arrived at the theatre I couldn’t believe my eyes, in the midst of thousands of people our seats were front row, center stage! I wish everyone could have seen the looks on the student’s faces. We could see the sweat and tears of the performers and the sound from the orchestra pit was phenomenal.”

After notifying Morton of the opportunity, work began to expand the trip and to remove any financial barriers for students. Morton said it was not difficult to find funding to support the students.

“This was an easy project to get behind. The Harlan Independent Schools Education Foundation (HISEF) made a significant financial contribution as well as a couple other anonymous donors,” Morton. “I think it is pretty special that we were able to take nearly 100 students and staff without asking them to work for months to raise funds. It speaks volumes to the commitment that HISEF and others have for our schools and students. It was such a life enriching experience for everyone.

“The fact the you could engage every student on the subject matter and historical significance was remarkable. These students were not simply there for entertainment, they have a deep understanding of the time period, the characters involved, and it was only strengthened by the connections they were able to make through the live portrayal of this important time period of our country. It is a testament to the engaging work being done in the classroom.”

Senior Lucy Bryson, who will be attending Asbury University in the fall on a theatre scholarship, found a renewed sense of inspiration while watching the elite caliber of performers.

“Experiencing Hamilton, I felt a connection to the performers on stage that reinforced my desire to pursue this path as a career. It is something that I love and am passionate about,” Bryson said. “Being able to do this with my friends, and really the entire junior and senior classes made the trip even better. Hamilton is one of the plays I have been hoping to see, to see it while sitting on the front row was something I will never forget.”

Jenna Shoemaker, another senior at HHS, was another student who participated. She recalls that the soundtrack of Hamilton was a great resource during her sophomore year while taking Advanced Placement U.S. History.

“This trip lived up to the hype, not many people would get the opportunity to see Hamilton, it was a really cool cultural experience that had many ethnicities represented in the cast,” Shoemaker said. “This allowed for everyone in the audience to experience the story and have something to relate to, weather it was the story itself or the cast members. I am very grateful to the school and donors for allowing us to have this remarkable experience.”

Braden Napier, a junior at HHS and classic rock fan, was not only excited about seeing Hamilton live, but thoroughly enjoyed seeing the lights and sounds of Hard Rock Café and The Parthenon.

“It was a magnificent experience to see all the artifacts and memorabilia of some great rock star and being able to see the Parthenon as the ancient Greeks saw it really made an impression on me. In a textbook you don’t get the scale of just how grand the structure and statues are like you do when standing and looking at them in person,” Napier said. “Being able to experience the Tennessee State Capitol, Hard Rock, The Parthenon, and Hamilton with all of my classmates created a shared experience that makes our discussions and conversations so much better because all of us got the chance to do it together. Listening to the soundtrack is one thing, but to see the emotion, action, adlibs, and extras is an entirely different experience that is so much more powerful.”

Morton estimated that the total cost of the trip would be around $25,000 or more and “it would be difficult to estimate what a front row seat to Hamilton would cost and how you even get that ticket.”

“In addition to the meals and overnight stay, this is clearly a remarkable experience for our students. We are very grateful for those that appreciate and love the arts and humanities. The impact of such an experience for our students cannot be adequately quantified in dollars and sense. These life experiences have a way of inspiring students to grow in ways that are impossible to achieve through a textbook or traditional classroom. I am thankful we are able to give these kinds of experiences to our students.”