Passing with flying colors: Seventh Annual Kids Helping Kids benefit brings Ingrid Michaelson and Jon McLaughlin to the Granada

There’s that old adage: learn by doing. And there’s a new semester of young economics students that learned, and they took that adage to heart. The result is the 7th annual Kids Helping Kids showcase at the Granada Theatre, this Saturday. The event raises funds for needy kids both here and abroad, and the nonprofit that puts it on is based out of a San Marcos High economics class. Teacher James DeVries puts seniors in charge of a nonprofit, where they must use their skills to book, market and launch an evening of music. This year, two singer-songwriters will take the stage due to the hard work of these economics students. Ingrid Michaelson is a New York-based songwriter best known for the singles “Be OK,” “Girls Chase Boys” and “The Way I Am.” Also appearing is Jon McLaughlin, singer of the single “Beating My Heart” and who recently opened for Billy Joel.

James DeVries, who received honors last year from Goleta’s Chamber of Commerce for his work setting up this program, started the class in 2002 as a penny drive.

“I was simply trying to make learning come to life,” he says.

As each class built on the successes of the previous years, their scope got greater. They put on a benefit show and silent auction, with each year raising more.

Their big break was through singer Tyrone Wells, whom the class booked to perform at their benefit in 2008. Charmed, the singer brought on his manager, Mark Chipello, who gave access to other acts in the Wells circle, most of them regulars at Hotel Cafe down in Los Angeles, a hothouse of sorts for singer-songwriters. Since then, Kids Helping Kids has started January off with sold-out shows at the Granada, with artists like Toad the Wet Sprocket (2009), Sara Bareilles (2012), Five for Fighting (2010), Brad Corrigan and Switchfoot (2013). Last year the event raised nearly $300,000.

Lily Smith, Chief Marketing Officer of this year’s team, handles all the print and radio ads, as well as getting posters up around town. Two years ago her brother took part in the class, so she knew what she was getting into, and she transferred to San Marcos from Bishop Diego to take part.

“This is a real-life chance to try all this out before I go to college,” she says about the program. “The hard part is being in a situation, like where you’re purchasing things from adults, and they’re asking you what you need and what you want. It’s usually the other way around.”

This real-world responsibility is what makes the program work, says their teacher, Mr. DeVries.

“Most of the time you hear of programs that die on the vine because they are only virtual or a ‘case study,’ ” he says. “But in our case, we have 1,500 tickets that we have to market and advertise, through graphics and radio ads. If you treat them like adults and set the bar high, they will rise to that level. Too many adults didn’t give them enough responsibility to show what they can do.”

Each semester the class starts from ground zero. Students have to interview for positions on the board. After the successful concert, their work continues with business reports and presentations. There’s also five other schools under KHK’s nonprofit umbrella that take part and put on their own events — the San Marcos group mentors them.

“It’s not like a test where if you get a bad grade you can make up for it with other projects,” says Lily. “You either do or you don’t. It’s a very scary thing.”

Mr. DeVries has watched former students go on to found companies and nonprofits.

“It’s cool to see the legacy of serving and the legacy of giving back,” he says. “That’s one of the things that I’m most proud of. That feeling that they are taking the chance they’ve been given and are paying it forward.”

Kids Helping Kids: Ingrid Michaelson, with Jon McLaughlin (SOLD OUT)
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Granada Theatre, 1214 State St.
Information: 899-2222,,

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