San Diego JCCS and David’s Harp Foundation


This is a story about untapped potential. Jerry is a 16-year-old African-American male who was referred to The David’s Harp Foundation (DHF)  by our partner in the foster care system, Voices for Children.  When Jerry first arrived at the DHF’s state-of-the-art recording studio for underserved youth, he had just been released from Juvenile Hall after having verbally assaulted a prosecutor during a probation hearing.  He was making F’s and D’s in school and was constantly in trouble at his foster group home.  Jerry entered the DHF electronic music production program that allows youth to trade their good grades and behaviors for studio time in December 2017 and behaviors improved drastically in only 12 weeks.

Jerry currently has a 3.8 GPA and is an emerging leader in his group home now!

Key components to the successful implementation of arts education are: (1) an engaging program that provides culturally relevant opportunities for youth to express themselves artistically, (2) qualified and practicing Teaching Artists with experience in their respective artistic field, and (3) the opportunities for youth to display their art to be celebrated.


Juvenile Court and Community Schools serve about 10,000 students each year in classrooms throughout the county. The fully accredited educational program serves school-age youth who are either wards of the court or have been referred by social services, probation or one of the 42 school districts in San Diego County. Services are provided to incarcerated youth, pregnant minors, foster youth, expelled and chronically truant youth, students in drug treatment centers and group homes for neglected or abused children, and homeless youth.

Time Frame

In 2007, DHF Founder Brandon Steppe walked away from his corporate job to produce music full-time in his Southeast San Diego garage-turned-recording-studio, which soon became a magnet for neighborhood youth who were disengaged in school and lacking motivation and direction. Steppe began allowing the youth to trade their good grades for time in his studio and witnessed the youth begin to succeed in school as a result. This was the birth of The David’s Harp Foundation, established in 2009. In 2012, DHF outgrew the garage, and with the help of a generous equipment donation from Discovery Communications built a state-of-the-art studio facility in San Diego’s Downtown East Village community. In 2013 the Student Production Lab was expanded, doubling program enrollment and allowing DHF to forge new partnerships. DHF now serves 200+ at-risk youth from 17 referring partners in the San Diego community.


DHF serves at-risk youth who are referred by various social service organizations (homeless shelters, Monarch School, Voices for Children), school districts, the San Diego Police Department, and other agencies that share the Foundation’s commitment to improving the lives of young people. 100% of program participants qualify for free or reduced lunch and 28% are English language learners. While the term “at risk” is often used to mean “less than”, DHF has redefined this term as someone who is full of potential but lacking mentorship or access to reach that potential.

Why it Matters

This is important to understand our organization’s goals because DHF is serving youth during the critical hours when youth violence, drug use, and other delinquent behaviors are most likely to occur. DHF is providing long-term solutions to these behaviors through: (1) mentorship and academic accountability; (2) providing a haven and creative space to form positive relationships; (3) new skills in music production, audio engineering, photography and video creation; (4) academic support, practical job training and transferable entrepreneurial and business skills; and (5) a sense of opportunity, accomplishment and hope for the future.

Regional Lead: Pauline Crooks

District Name: San Diego County Office of Education

School Name: Juvenile Court and Community School

County: San Diego

Contact Name: Amanda Wallace

Contact Email:

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