In Culver City Unified, neighbors help bring theater into classrooms

Third graders at El Rincon Elementary School in Culver City act out a scene from a book they read in class. The nonprofit We Tell Stories is working with the students for five weeks.
Third graders at El Rincon Elementary School in Culver City act out a scene from a book they read in class. The nonprofit We Tell Stories is working with the students for five weeks.
Priska Neely/ KPCC

Listen to story

Download this story 0.0MB

What happens when a small school district decides to take advantage of its proximity to one of the country's largest film and television studios, one of the city's most important theaters and numerous other performing arts organizations?

In the Culver City Unified School District, it means that students have more access to theater arts programming than anywhere else in Los Angeles County. 

A 2015 report from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission showed that the district has the highest concentration of theater arts programming per student of any district in the county. That's thanks to the support of six community arts organizations who provide theater instruction in schools through the district's Front and Center Theatre Collaborative. 

"There's all of these people – whether it's arts organizations, or funders or the school district – they're all getting together and saying, 'Here's where the holes are, how can we help?' " said Heather Moses, coordinator of the collaborative. 

During this school year, the more than 6,700 students in the district will receive nearly $200,000 worth of programming – including 475 hours of classroom and after-school instruction, in addition to assemblies and field trips. 

Culver City Unified is celebrating eight years of the partnerships, and to educate the public about the offerings, it's hosting an evening showcase, open to the public Friday, Feb. 10, at the Veterans Memorial Complex. 

During the celebration, more than 100 students from all grade levels will perform the 1939 "Wizard of Oz" ballad "Over the Rainbow," a selection intended to showcase the message that the answer to increasing arts offerings in Culver City schools could be found in the district's own back yard.


The collaborative was formed by Janice Pober, vice president of global corporate social responsibility at the Culver City-based Sony Pictures Entertainment, after watching recession-era cuts gut arts programming.

"I thought perhaps I could convene these arts partners who’d been working locally, and have them rethink a way to keep services in the district," she said.  

The collaborative started out in 2009 with three partners, but has grown to include six: The Actors' Gang, Center Theatre Group, We Tell Stories, Story Pirates, Young Storytellers and 24th Street Theatre.

These organizations provide programming linked to classroom instruction. The groups focused on drama and storytelling provide assemblies for first and second graders. By high school, Center Theatre Group teaching artists work directly with English classes. 

Third grader Jesine, who is participating in a five-week workshop focused on literacy and storytelling, said that when he started the classes, he was nervous about participating. Now, he said, he'd feel comfortable giving a speech or a play.

"I learned to project my voice and not be afraid," he said.


Pober said she's been proud to watch the program grow over the years and see children take away a variety of lesson.  

"One pinball, an investment in the arts, hits a lot of different targets," Pober said. "And one of them is that it aligns with a corporate goal: to develop a workforce for the what is a cornerstone of the creative economy."