The primary founder of Crossroads School in Santa Monica has been honored by the Alliance for Children’s Rights.

Paul Cummins, New Visions Foundation executive director, was honored by the organization with the Francis M. Wheat Community Service Award Thursday, December 9th.

As the primary founder of Crossroads School in Santa Monica 34 years ago, Cummins has since created New Visions Foundation in Santa Monica — which envisions and develops innovative educational opportunities for underserved youths.

The Alliance for Children’s Rights honored Cummins as “a visionary educator who has dedicated his career to creating high quality learning communities for a diverse and often underprivileged population of Los Angeles students.”

Driven by his increasing distress at the inequities in society, Cummins set out to level the playing field for disadvantaged youths.

“Some children get so much and some get so little. If you’re born in some parts of South Central, your geography is your destiny and your destiny is an accident of where you’re born,” he says.

Cummins has launched significant outreach programs within the community and in Southern California, such as P.S. ARTS, a program that put arts back into public schools after budget cuts.

Eleven years ago, Cummins formed New Visions Foundation to bring academic excellence to as many at-risk youths as possible.

Cummins’s outreach includes the formation of independent and charter schools, after-school programs to help incarcerated youths and family assistance programs.

New Roads School in Santa Monica became the foundation’s first school in 1995. The school has graduated five senior classes and serves about 500 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Cummins says New Roads is one of the few truly integrated schools in Los Angeles and that 40 percent of the operating budget goes to financial aid.

“People who tour the school say they’ve never seen such diversity or as many happy kids,” Cummins says.

Besides a college preparatory program, the school places focus on the arts; environmental education, including trips to the mountains; community service; physical education, incorporating yoga, meditation, nutrition and fitness; and human development, which teaches kids to respect differences.

The school offers full-time college counseling to place students in appropriate colleges and helps students apply for financial aid.

All students in the five senior classes that have graduated from New Roads School have gone to college.

“When you look at the diversity, you say ‘That’s an achievement,'” Cummins says.

In 2000, New Visions co-founded Camino Nuevo Charter Academy in Los Angeles, which teaches more than 1,000 students yearly in kindergarten through 12th grade.

At Camp David Gonzalez, a juvenile probation facility in Calabasas for ages 14 to 18, New Visions offers a joint program of after-school enrichment courses and placement upon emancipation.

Cummins says that before the program, many were released and went back to the old neighborhood and the old ways. Since the program began, 30 kids have been placed in community colleges and six in independent schools.

Cummins says the approach is punitive but encouraging. By offering exciting classes, such as film, gardening and journalism, participants can turn their lives around and feel proud of themselves.

New Visions’ Families Helping Families encourages families with means to sponsor low-income families, allowing the low-income family to get a new apartment, job training and education.

“It can change the destiny of the family,” Cummins says.

New Visions Foundation’s Center for Educational Opportunity places foster children in selected schools and provides caring support until college.

Statistics provided to New Visions show that 30 percent of former foster children go on welfare assistance between the ages of 18 and 24 and more than 25 percent are eventually incarcerated.

“When you put foster kids in quality schools, it stabilizes a child’s life and they want to stay in the school,” Cummins says.

The program began with five children in private school and has grown to 41 this year.

Cummins adds that if these children receive support and caring they can succeed and reverse their awful history.

Looking forward, New Visions has co-founded Los Angeles Academy of Arts and Enterprise, which will offer a wide range of arts classes and the business knowledge for arts-related careers.

The New Village School will be a residential charter school for foster kids who have a more difficult time stabilizing.

The curriculum has been written and the foundation is looking for a location and resolving funding complexities.

The Herb Alpert Educational Village plans to open in 2007 and will be the home of a pre-school as well as kindergarten through 12th grade.

Space for offices for nonprofit organizations serving underserved children and youths will also be created.

Looking to the future, Cummins doesn’t think private philanthropy or the state can solve all of the social and educational issues at hand and he would like to see more attention from the federal government.

“All of us need to wake up in the morning with some sense of hope,” Cummins says. What is most rewarding for him is to see a kid and a family turn their lives around and to see the joy and the spark in their eyes.


Julie Kirst can be reached at