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From left, Fallon Bozman, 5, and Jada Sherry, 5, talk while they finish their robot art during their class at the Oakland Fine Arts Summer School held at Think College Now elementary school in Oakland, Calif. on Wednesday, July 6, 2011. (Laura A. Oda/Staff)

OAKLAND -- The Cesar E. Chavez Education Center would have been a lot quieter this summer if Oakland voters hadn't passed a school parcel tax in 2008. No whimpering sounds of beginning trumpet, no teachers calling out counts, no drumming.

A free summer program dedicated to the arts is a rare find; these days, school districts are even cutting back on such bare essentials as credit recovery courses for high school students. But Oakland has managed to keep the doors of its Fine Arts Summer School open -- not with general funds from the school district or city, but with $62,000 from a local tax levy that voters approved in 2004 and renewed in 2008. The San Leandro-based Jair Foundation has also supported the effort, providing staff and equipment.

"The citizens of Oakland do value the arts, and they don't want to see it compromised," said Deitra Atkins, a retired principal who has run the program since 2003.

Unlike many free programs, children are eligible to attend the summer school regardless of how much money their families have. As long as a child is of elementary school age and lives in Oakland or has a parent who works in the city, he or she can participate. And, although it's run by the school district, children from private schools are welcome to take part as well (though public school children have priority).

This year, the school district moved the program from Glenview Elementary School to the Fruitvale-area campus shared by Think College Now and International Community School. It drew more than 300 children from 60 public, private and parochial schools. The half-day, four-week program usually serves about 250, but Atkins said she admitted everyone who applied.

"This year I just could not say no," she said. "Parents need a quality summer program for their children, so I wanted all of them to participate."

One morning this month, children in one classroom practiced the South African "Can Dance" under the tutelage of jazz drummer E.W. Wainwright while those in the circus arts class learned how to safely support a classmate in a pyramid pose.

In a kindergarten classroom, while painting collages of a robot, 5-year-olds Fallon Bozman and Jada Sherry decided -- officially -- to become friends.

Fallon said she has enjoyed meeting kids from other schools. But, she said, "It's about learning, too."

The children will demonstrate what they've learned in a final performance Thursday at 2825 International Blvd. The 10:30 a.m. show is open to the public.

Read Katy Murphy's blog at IBAbuzz.com/education. Follow her at Twitter.com/KatyMurphy.