Paul Cummins

by Jane Wallace

Paul Cummins (
Paul Cummins (

Paul Cummins is a poet, an author, but most of all he is an educational visionary. Cummins is not just a dreamer he is a doer. Where others might see bored kids in a classroom with a droning teacher, the passionate Cummins sees young minds being suffocated by a a dismal approach to teaching that quashes kids natural joy of learning, sadly dimming their futures. Cummins doesn't just criticize, he knows how to create classrooms that come alive. His schools use what he calls his "five solids": human development, environmental education, community service, physical education and perhaps most important of all, the arts. Cummins' schools incorporate the arts into virtually every aspect of learning. Cummins' kids make films, play music, paint pictures, write poetry--and that may all be just for a history class.. Cummins believes creativity not only teaches kids, it reaches invaluable channels for self expression that is as natural to young people as breathing..

Cummins own "eureka moment" came standing in line as a new student at Stanford University. Another student asked him what he was reading. He answered, "Nothing. Classes haven't started yet". Cummins had been a privileged kid who had gotten a privileged private school education. In one flash he realized how little he knew and how dulled it left him toward the world. It was time to really start learning and ultimately figure out better ways to teach others. His zeal lead him to launch the Crossroads School in Santa Monica, California. Alumni still speak of their school reverentially. Stories are told of teachers teaching standing on top of desks, playing "Jeopardy!" in Latin, award winning films produced by kids, Hollywood talent scouts attending school plays, classics rewritten to take place in the school alley, the students starting their own literary magazine. With the encouraging atmosphere, the kids burst with their own creativity. 100% of the Crossroads graduates went to college. But most of the students at Crossroads were both wealthy and white. Cummins was ready to branch out and start reaching kids who weren't.

Due to budget cuts, the arts programs at Los Angeles public schools were being discontinued. Cummins started PS ARTS out of the community service program at Crossroads. Cummins' idea of true community service was to provide art teachers to elementary schools that no longer had money for the arts. By providing art, drama, music and dance teachers, he created a program that has changed the lives of kids in many schools all over Los Angeles.

But still, he wasn't done. He handed over the reins to Crossroads and moved on.


Cummins' next creation was New Roads, a school whose student body had more color and half could not pay any tuition. Cummins was setting out to prove that a kid didn't have to be white and rich to be educated. New Roads also incorporated kids who learned differently. What stayed the same were Cummins five solids and his hugely creative approaches. New Roads delivered the same result: 100% of the graduates went on to college, white and wealthy or not. Cummins again handed over the reins, and this time expanded broadly.

Cummins established a very ambitious set of ideas including seeking social justice through education. He incorporated the changes under the umbrella of the New Visions Foundation. One program, LENZ has attached itself to a bad educational district in Los Angeles, Lenox, mentoring kids and their families with the goal of getting each of the kids, one day, to college. It will take a lot of doing. Lennox is a densely populated square mile where most homes are not English speaking, are very poor, with uneducated parents. The approach is comprehensive--in order to help the children, LENZ is there to reach and support their families as well.

Another New Visions program aims to educationally scoop up foster kids when they age out of the system. Only 2% of former fosters go on to college when 100% say they would like to. But most have no parent or family after age 18 to either help them apply, pay for college, or support them as students. Now New Visions has their eyes out for a few former fosters, too.

Perhaps the most ambitious program at New Visions is least defined. Cummins has thrown open the doors of his ecologically designed New Visions building to offer office space to ten other non-profit groups to percolate some of the next generation of educational leadership by having new ideas together in the same place. Cummins has created his own think tank, and true to form. in addition to the work one would expect to go on there, he also presents jazz concerts and a new documentary on education every month. My Hero is one of the ten organizations chosen for a spot.

Once again Cummins is wandering down the road less taken. He is happy to create and move on. Cummins seems to have no need to stop after any one and wallow in credit. His is a restless mind that cannot help too many kids, and is driven by how many kids need it. Cummins just keeps going where he sees the need, dedicating his life to changing as many of their futures as he can by creating learning that excites, on kid at a time. And now, he is always reading something. Stale, smug thinking has become his biggest enemy.

Page created on 8/18/2014 7:14:57 PM

Last edited 8/18/2014 7:14:57 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

The New Vision Foundation - Paul Cummins' Foundation Website with Resources
Learning Curve - "For the LA foster children and teens who encounter the non-profit Center for Educational Opportunity, a private education is more than making the grade. It’s offering a chance to alter the trajectory of their lives."
Poeticdiversity - Paul Cummins interview
Paul Cummins - kidsinthehouse

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