(Reprinted courtesy of USA Business Review)

San Diego, CA This San Diego based nonprofit is giving back musically, making brain connections, and expanding the young minds of students in grades K-12 here and around the nation.

Guitars in the Classroom (GITC) is a humble nonprofit that gets back to the root of sharing music. Jessica Baron, Founder and Executive Director, believes music is an instinctive human form of expression that needs to be recognized in today’s society. With all the American Idols and Guitar Heroes in the world, Guitars in the Classroom was founded a measure earlier than today’s cultural crazes.

Founded in 1998, GITC provides free integrated music making to over 800,000 students annually. GITC transforms education by training classroom teachers and school staff to play guitar, sing, teach and lead songs, and write lyrics for learning with their preschool through 12th grade students.  No musical experience is necessary to participate and succeed. Infusing academic lessons with music makes learning a more creative, successful and unforgettable experience for students and creates musical access for every child. GITC empowers teachers to pick up the guitar, and bring musical learning right into the regular classroom.

The Reason to Learn:

GITC trains, equips and encourages teachers to introduce musical learning across the regular academic curriculum to students during early childhood and elementary years when new skills and ideas can be absorbed at lightning speed thanks to rapid myelination , a process of brain development in which children make new synaptic connections. GITC provides innovative teacher training, musical supplies, and coaching so teachers can integrate song based learning on a daily basis for circle times, transitions, and for teaching lessons in math, social studies, science, language arts, and physical education.

This year, California Governor Jerry Brown proposed $8.3 billion in cuts across education, health care and welfare programs in laying out a plan to address the state’s $15.7 billion shortfall, reported the Associated Press. It’s not surprising to Ms. Baron that the arts are among the first programs to get cut. She cites such decisions as short-sighted and misinformed because the arts are essential to student achievement. “Music and all the arts boost student engagement in school and build critical abilities that lead to academic success,” she says. But with schools’ funding partially dependent on standardized test results, many teachers are now being pressured to teach to the test and programs that do not directly focus on acquiring test based information are often thrown to the wayside. This often includes music education, “a tragedy for our kids and our culture,” Ms. Baron adds.

Many colleges long ago stopped requiring students majoring in Education to take a course in basic classroom music. As a result, teachers graduate with their degrees and credentials without any musical skills. “Sadly, classroom pianos have gone the way of the stegosaurus, and regular daily singing has become an endangered species. Our job is to help integrated music recover by adding songs for learning and acoustic guitars find their place in the curriculum.”

GITC has offered teacher training in 31 states. 75% of the teachers GITC trains have no prior musical experience when they come to their first class. Once teachers achieve competence and confidence leading music, they integrate music on an ongoing basis for the duration of their careers in the classroom.

Partnering up:

Donations keep Guitars in the Classroom afloat. Partnering up with leading musical products companies, some of the world’s largest and most experienced manufacturers of musical instruments in the world, GITC is able to reach organizations outside the classroom as well. Godin Guitars, Martin Guitars, Hohner U.S.A., and many others contribute instruments to GITC’s guitar recycling program in which teachers can borrow an instrument while they learn to play, then return it to GITC when they are ready to purchase their own. GITC has over 1,000 guitars in circulation around the U.S. so new teachers can learn to play each year.

“Manufacturers are making a tremendous difference in the schools – a Nashville company called Samick Music Corp, makers of Greg Bennett guitars recently donated 100 guitars to the cause. “We signed a national partnership agreement with the Y to help companies that want to do some heavy lifting to support the Y’s afterschool guitar programs because there are children who don’t have instruments to play. Our role with the YMCAs is to help them along with their programs in the school, and they will help us reach out to more teachers. Everyone wins.”

John Hawkins, Treasurer for the Board of Directors of Guitars in the classroom is the Division Vice President and General Manager of Samick Music Corporation in Gallatin, TN where he oversees marketing and manufacturing. Hawkins went to the YMCA as a child and understands the importance of music in a young person’s life.

“When I asked John if he wanted to help the YMCA, he said ‘Sure what do you need?’” Baron said. “I said we need 100 guitars for use by scholarship children. He said ‘Done’.”

GITC is also supported by other music manufacturing companies, merchandising businesses, and philanthropic foundations including The NAMM Foundation, GAMA (Guitars and Accessories Marketing Association), Guitar Center Charitable Giving, Fender Music Foundation, and more.

Jack Johnson and GITC

Enter: laidback folk rock singer-songwriter, surfer and musician -Jack Johnson. From his groovy riffs to surfing the north shore of Oahu, Jack Johnson’s involvement with charity makes him one of the “good guys” in the music biz – not to take anything away from Bono.

Away from the glitzy tourist spots in some of the famous parts of the Hawaiian Islands exist regular working communities where schools are pressed for funding and teachers require support to make music a daily reality for their students. It is in such schools where Jack and his partner and wife Kim have given GITC assistance through their Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation. Hawaii has a rich cultural tradition of music and dance, and GITC is working to support these in the classrooms. Developing programs takes time and determination. The Johnsons have both and see a bright future for the role of music in Hawaiian classrooms, right alongside the teaching of eco-sustainability. GITC accomplishes this with their participation and through their Green Songbook ( www.greensongbook.com .)

Events, festivals, and contests are plentiful during December on the North Shore of Oahu. GITC Artist Relations Director Billy Stern partnered with the Surfer Poll – the “Academy Awards” of surfing and through a generous donation of ukuleles from Hohner, GITC traveled back to the mainland with an autographed ukulele with the top surfers in the world as well as Jack Johnson’s signature.

A 1942 team-signed World Series baseball would be the equivalent of the surfer signed ukulele. “The Triple J Uke” is the other instrument that will go up for auction featuring John Hancocks from John Cruz (Hawaiian singer/songwriter), and Jake Shimabukuro (Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso) and Jack Johnson. GITC will auction off two ukuleles in 2012 and 2013 to raise funds to support and grow GITC programs in Hawaii and beyond.

GITC in a Nutshell

Presently, training programs are active in 19 states. GITC is all over the country reaching to the southern, northern and mid western states, but its strongest programs are in California. There are 46 teacher trainers holding classes up to 24 teachers each. As a result, a single group of teachers in a class reaches about 2,300 students within eight weeks.

“It’s exciting to me that there are so many people who want to get involved, and many talented trainers who want to share what they know with classroom teachers. And GITC is thrilled to bring everyone together in a program that creates jobs, creates new music makers, and improves education. Each teacher reaches and inspires between 76 and 99 students per week with free music making- that is true leverage. GITC has trained over 9,000 teachers and school staff members since its beginning. GITC will launch their new redeveloped website in two weeks.

June 2012

Sam Soares

USA Business Review




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