Founded in a set of small Santa Monica bungalows in 1971, Crossroads School was developed by Dr. Paul Cummins, Dr. Rhoda Makoff, and a small group of teachers and parents. The school was a pioneer for social-emotional learning and holistic education; Cummins even wrote a book about his pedagogical approach, called For Mortal Stakes: Solutions for Schools and Society.
The school — whose name was inspired by the Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken” — characterizes its five main commitments as academic excellence, the arts, the greater community, diversity, and the physical well-being and full human potential of each student. For instance, the school is committed to giving out $7 million in financial aid to ensure that it is accessible to all students who are interested. When it comes to a devotion to the greater community, Crossroads was one of the first schools to have community service as a graduation requirement. At present, students must complete a total of 45 hours of service to graduate, including one 25-hour project, one 15-hour project, and 10 additional hours of service.
Arts carry equal weight with academics at Crossroads, and students participate in “life skills” courses meant to develop self-esteem, responsibility, and decision-making skills. In these classes, students often explore identity, culture, and self-reflection through group therapy (“Council”), writing activities, and guided meditations. During their senior year of upper school, students attend a five-day retreat at the Ojai Foundation.
Environmental leadership is also a critical component at the school, and all students are required to complete a place-based natural education class, called “EOE” (Environmental and Outdoor Education). These classes often take the form of week-long excursions, including camping and studying poetry in the Owens Valley. The school recently completed construction on a large Science Education and Research Facility, which includes a native plant garden and a monarch butterfly preserve.
The tight-knit community and open curriculum at Crossroads both draw phenomenal teachers, whom students all call by their first names. These teachers are so influential that at times they get write-ups in the Los Angeles Times. For instance, Jim Hosney, a respected film and literature teacher, taught at the school for 25 years, and actress Zooey Deschanel, an alumna of the school, has gone on record as theorizing that “everything in Hollywood is directly or indirectly influenced by [him].” It should be noted that Crossroads is one of the few K–12 schools in the country to offer critical studies in film.
What are the outcomes of Crossroads’s innovation?
The school’s graduates go on to do remarkably well, with 98–100 percent continuing on to pursue higher education. Because the arts are so deeply woven into the curriculum, many graduates become lauded filmmakers, actors, writers, musicians, and visual artists — joining the likes of Crossroads alumni Kate Hudson, Maya Rudolph, Zosia Mamet, and Baron Davis.
Throughout its history, the school has accomplished many impressive feats, such as cultivating a renowned chamber orchestra (which played at the inauguration of the Los Angeles Walt Disney Concert Hall) and receiving the Columbia University Scholastic Press Award for several publications. Its holistic approach to student development, which also focuses on encouraging learners to lead active and healthy lives, has led the school to win several athletic championships, including two state championships in the Upper School.
The school's curricular trailblazing has also led to recognition from higher education institutions. The school was one of the first to opt out of the Advanced Placement program and create its own high-level courses, which have been so successful that the University of California system has approved them for Honors credit.
How is Crossroads’s innovation relevant to the larger ed space?
Crossroads is a part of the Progressive Education Network, and as one of the first private schools to devote itself to social justice and holistic education, it has served as a model for other progressive schools across the country and as a source of inspiration for educators. For instance, Vicky Shorr, writer, political activist, and co-founder of the Archer School for Girls, spoke about Crossroads founder Cummins's vision: “It's easy to look at the kind of progressive education that has become the norm in top schools throughout Los Angeles and assume that it's always been that way, but it hasn't. When Paul Cummins founded Crossroads School, in 1971 … private school was for the rich, the white, the privileged. But Paul Cummins thought it was time for that to change.”
Crossroads has been among the first of several schools to institute various initiatives, from doing away with AP courses in favor of its own rigorous offerings to eliminating cheerleading squads (which students believed encouraged gender discrimination). The school was also one of the first to invite thought leaders to present on and discuss issues of microaggression, diversity, and activism, believing that these conversations are not meant solely for higher education, and that they begin at the root of our learning experiences. (Repost: https://www.noodle.com/articles/innovative-schools-2015#crossroads)