The school's principal, Paul Cummins, wanted to help poorly funded local public schools rejuvenate their virtually obsolete art programs. Backed with a $600,000 grant from the Herb Alpert Foundation and small grants from businesses and individuals, the Crossroads Community Foundation was founded in 1991.
For the past three years, Crossroads has funded a comprehensive curriculum of music, art, dance and theater programs at Broadway, Coeur d'Alene Avenue School in Venice and at the Santa Monica Boys and Girls Club. The partnership between a private school and public schools is one of the nation's first and has begun to be replicated throughout the country.
"The arts allow children to express their feelings in a positive way," Cummins said. "When kids find success in the arts it has a dramatic impact on their academic success. Art gives them a chance to say, 'I am. I have some value,' which is a wonderful way to make that statement instead of bottling it up and having it come out in destructive negative ways like graffiti and guns."
On a recent day at Broadway, more than a dozen music students sat in a semicircle, imitating the rhythmic beats of their teachers with a series of claps and slaps. A student kept time by banging a drum; some hit gongs, temple blocks and a xylophone. They repeated the words to an Appalachian folk song while working on pitch and echo techniques.
The primary goal is to experience the music through singing, listening and playing, teachers say. Though musical notes are drawn on the board, reading music remains a secondary aim.
"They really develop a sense of ensemble. When one messes up, each helps the other," said Richard Geere, a teacher of the class. "They're willing to take risks and participate. The music really takes them to a place of joy. There's nothing to argue with."
Many teachers have noticed an increase in attention spans. And the music classes have pulled some students out of what seemed like an incurable lethargy.
"One kid who's always getting criticized at home just totally came alive in class. He now has this sparkle in his eye," said Marty Fox, a school music teacher.
The music teachers said such classes have given students an outlet that became particularly important in helping them endure--and recover from--last year's violence. Children often spend their lunch hours rehearsing. Others use bamboo poles on the playground for rhythm and dance practice.
When Geere and Fox returned for the fall term, they were greeted by a cry from a crowd of students who shouted, "It's them! It's them!"
Last May, Broadway Elementary, through its arts program, encouraged students to draw their Heart's Desire--an illustration of their most fervent wishes--on the sidewalk in front of the school.
The message was clear in the many colored-chalk outlines: an overwhelming desire for peace. There were drawings of hearts, pastoral scenes, hands flashing the peace symbol and of blacks and Latinos painting out graffiti.
Nearly four months later, the colors of some of those drawings remain visible under the bubble gum stains and dust.
"Last year's experience was a catalyst that brought many children and others in the community even closer together," Romotsky said. "We survived, persevered and have learned from the experience. Hopefully, it is a sign that we can keep working together."