This blog is part of a series of posts highlighting the 10 inaugural grantees of the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund.

‘Love of Many Hearts’

“Our organization is very much a grassroots organization that has grown through the love of many hearts and the help of many hands over the last 23 years,” said Jessica “Jess” Baron, executive director and founder of Guitars and Ukes in the Classroom.

In 2000, Guitars and Ukes in the Classroom started as a beautiful idea.

“We started out helping educators become song leaders for learning,” she said.

At that time, Jess hoped that dedicated professionals could make it possible for students to sing in school as a part of learning any – or every – subject. While students may not be singing about every subject, they are learning important personal development, leadership and life skills.

“I’m seeing creativity come out in these kids,” said Garner Saguil, a teacher at Dingeman Elementary School in San Diego Unified School District and a faculty trainer, teaching artist for Guitars in the Classroom. “I’m seeing teamwork come out in these kids. I’m seeing leadership.

“I don’t have a music credential, but I’ve always been involved in music my whole life,” he said. “Guitars in the Classroom – you don’t have to be musically trained. Which makes it so user-friendly.”

Helping Students

The benefits that Garner refers to are evident once you speak with students.

“It inspires me, and I feel like many other people doing ukulele or instruments. It makes me dream big and feel happy that I get to do it,” said Anisha, one of Garner’s 4th-grade students. “It’s really satisfying. I feel so happy and grateful that I get to be a part of a group and that I get to learn the ukulele because it’s really special just learning an instrument.”

Her classmate Jacob agreed about the importance of playing with his classmates.

“In the classroom, we have to strum together and work together,” he said. “It’s important we learn to work with others.”

Like Anisha, Jacob also noted social-emotional benefits.

“It’s really soothing to me,” he said. “Whenever I’m not feeling really well, I just hum out a few tunes and I instantly feel better.”

The social-emotional learning that students like Jacob and Anisha mention is a key part of why SDF has partnered with Guitars and Ukes in the Classroom in the past. The local nonprofit has participated in Level Up SD, a reimagined summer school experience that offers extraordinary academic and enrichment programming to K-12 San Diego Unified students in partnership with SDF, since its launch in 2021.

About the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund

In February 2023, Jay Kahn, a local entrepreneur and music lover, donated an unrestricted $100 million cash gift to San Diego Foundation – the largest-ever gift of its kind to a local nonprofit. Thanks to his generosity, SDF created the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund, which will perpetually benefit San Diego.

The first grants from Kahn’s gift, which is the third-largest gift of its kind to a U.S. community foundation, include $150,000 unrestricted grants to 10 San Diego-based music education nonprofits to advance their work with under-resourced children. The grants intend to grow music appreciation in San Diego in memory of Kahn

One of the inaugural Jay Kahn Endowment Fund grantees is Guitars and Ukes in the Classroom. Its mission is to elevate student engagement and expand the role of music in education by making purposeful, inclusive music a joyful and integral part of literacy, academic, and social-emotional learning throughout the school day and beyond.

Jay Kahn was born on February 23, 1932, in Benton Harbor, Michigan, to a recently immigrated German father and his second-generation wife. Jay left Benton Harbor just out of high school after receiving a full scholarship to study clarinet at the University of Texas, Denton. Though he didn’t finish the program, classical music, specifically chamber music for winds, remained a lifelong passion of Jay’s. He played in several ensembles around San Diego, including orchestras at UC San Diego and the University of San Diego.

Learn how you can give with San Diego Foundation.