Popular student video: ‘Surfin’ USA’

Dingeman Elementary School teacher Garner Saguil taught his students how to play the ukulele and posted a popular video of them singing and playing “Surfin’ USA” by The Beach Boys. (courtesy of Garner Saguil)

Popular student video: ‘Surfin’ USA’

By Kaila Mellos

Garner Saguil, a fourth-grade seminar teacher and the choir director at Dingeman Elementary School, has been teaching his class ukulele since last year after teaching himself how to play during a vacation.

“I started researchingukuleles for the kids, and I found the prices for all of that,” Saguil said. “I started researching grants, and I put together a grant with But the only thing with is you can only put in for 25 ukuleles, and I teach fourth grade, and our numbers can go up to 35 students.”

With the help of the grant – and another grant through the San Diego Unified School District Visual and Performing Arts program for the other 10 ukuleles – he had the full set of 35 and could begin teaching his students.

This year, however, with COVID-19 preventing any in-person teaching, Saguil loaned the 35 ukuleles to his students in the hope of giving them the musical experience that he loved so much.

“I sent [the ukuleles] all home, and it was probably the best decision I’ve ever made,” Saguil said. “This year, the kids have really become proficient on the ukulele because they have them at home every day, and they’re regularly practicing, and it’s made a huge difference.”

With the ukuleles now with the students, Saguil decided this year he would have the students learn and perform one song. That song: “Surfin’ USA” by The Beach Boys.

“I was looking at the songs that I was teaching them, and ‘Surfin’ USA’ is a fun song. When I first introduced it to them, I started with the YouTube video of The Beach Boys. They looked at it, and they were like, ‘Oh, this is weird.’ You know, of course, it’s black and white, and they’re dancing kind of funny and wearing funny clothes. So, they said, ‘Uh, are we really going to learn the song?’ And I said, ‘sure, why not?’”

Saguil, along with his teacher’s assistant, taught the kids the four chords required to play the song and then focused on the singing aspect of it. He broke the kids up into groups and put them in breakout rooms to practice.

“I would visit the breakout rooms and have them practice the strumming techniques of the song. I would have them check their chords to make sure they were chording properly,” he said. “And then when we got to the harmony part – I split them up, boys and girls.”

Once the song was performed and recorded through Zoom, the final piece that was missing, according to Saguil, was the production company to put it all together and create a video to share.

Finding a production company to put a video together was not easy to do in November or December due to all the recitals and other music performances at every other school. Saguil had to go through a list of companies until he finally reached out to C. Scott Company in Minnesota.

“I signed a contract with the production company, and we started the project. Right away, I started searching for grants, and once again, our Visual and Performing Arts department has a foundation, and the foundation grant came out at about the same time, and I applied for it,” he said.

Saguil received that grant, and the video was now paid for and set to be ready by January.

After posting the video to his own Facebook page, making it public, it has gotten more than 5,000 views, and teachers from all over are reaching out to him for tips to do something similar.

“I’m surprised at how quickly it’s spreading. Every time I look on Facebook, it’s getting more and more views. I think the last time I checked, it’s over 5,000 views, and it’s been on less than a week,” Saguil said. “It’s catching on, and it’s funny, teachers from all over the United States have been messaging me asking me how I got ukuleles for my classroom and asking me how I’m able to teach via Zoom and how I put together a project like this. So, I’ve been responding to them because I think it’s important that, as a teacher, we share our ideas and tips so that way we can spread the love of music as much as we can.”

View the video here: