Above, The San Pedro City Ballet performs ‘The Nutcracker’ for 1,400 students from schools in Local District South.

Leland Street Elementary Principal Lora Caudill is making ‘The Nutcracker’ a holiday tradition for L.A. Unified students.

Santa arrived early for 1,400 students from Local District South, who were treated to a performance of the “The Nutcracker,” the holiday classic that has enchanted generations of ballet aficionados.

Students from a dozen schools were selected to attend the ballet at the Warner Grant Theatre, an art deco movie palace that dates back to the 1930s.

“Ultimately, the goal is to expose students to the arts,” said Leland Street Elementary Principal Lora Caudill, who started the holiday tradition with her students three years ago. “We want to let them know there’s more to school than math, science and language arts.”

Watching young performers in ‘The Nutcracker’ sparks interest in the arts.

Before attending the performance by the San Pedro City Ballet, students studied a guide prepared by Caudill. They learned about the plot of “The Nutcracker,” the basics of ballet, and the behind-the-scenes roles needed to stage a production.

Understanding the arts is critical for students.

“I believe in the arts,” said Caudill, whose husband writes and performs music. “I believe the arts saves a lot of students.”

Caudill began planning the event in July, reaching out to schools with a shortage of arts programs. Several campuses in nearby Carson were chosen, because students have access to after-school dance lessons offered by the San Pedro City Ballet.

Coordinating such a large event requires much planning and support. Local District South Superintendent Christopher Downing funded 11 buses to transport students, and School Police Lt. Lyndon Cullen helped escort students within walking distance of the theater.

Next year’s field trip might be even bigger. When planning starts, Caudill said she and Cynthia Bradley, artistic director of the San Pedro City Ballet, may plan more shows for students.

“We want to reach as many students as possible,” Caudill said.