Meet Sam Cummins

Sam Cummins is the Shelterwood Dean of Student Services and also leads the Independent Studies program. This month, Sam celebrates five years as part of the Shelterwood team. Meet Sam Cummins.

What he loves most about Shelterwood: “I like the opportunity I have to see students meet their individual goals,” Sam explains. “As the Dean of Student Services and in my role leading the Independent Studies Program, I get the chance to help make academic and individual goals for students. It is exciting over time to see students meet those goals and to see them become academically ready to return home and enter into their next chapter.”

Before Shelterwood: Having grown up in suburban St. Louis, Sam always saw himself teaching history class in public school in a suburban environment. “However, my first teaching job after college was in an inner city, private school north of Chicago,” he smiles. “It was a very focused, small school that was designed to help traditionally lower-achieving students be successful. I loved my time there.” He went on to work as a special education paraprofessional. “This was so informative for me as a teacher.”

What brought him to Shelterwood: After relocating to Kansas City for his wife’s work, Sam heard about Shelterwood from a friend at church. Shelterwood was looking for an Independent Studies teacher, a role Sam initially was not interested in because of his passion for teaching history. “John Lawrence, the Shelterwood Principal, offered me the role with the promise that after leading Independent Studies for a semester, I could begin teaching history the following fall,” Sam says. When fall arrived, as promised, John approached Sam about teaching history — but Sam turned down the job. “I loved Independent Studies so much!”

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Sam Cummins (center) joins Shelterwood colleagues in celebration of his NATSAP Excellence in Service Award.

Independent Studies, defined: “Shelterwood is unique in that we offer typical courses in traditional classrooms, like history and science,” Sam says, “but we also offer Independent Studies so students can pick up with any part of the curriculum in any subject area. Some students arrive behind in credits in a subject area we do not offer, like AP History or Spanish, for example. Independent Studies allows students to make up credits and even get ahead. I compare it to a one-room schoolhouse.”

Day in the life: Sam spends a good part of his day working with students in the Independent Studies classroom, helping students achieve their individual academic goals. “The other portion of my day, as Dean of Students, I work to get students what they need to be successful, like academic support, behavioral support, learning plans and resources on the Shelterwood campus.”

When he was a teen: Even as a teenager, Sam had an affinity for the underdog — “people who have amazing talent and amazing capacity, but do not always do things in the traditional way, people who others may write off but have amazing abilities,” he explains. “One of my best friends in high school was blind, and he was brilliant, but other people did not see it.” That very passion drives his work today at Shelterwood.

Award-winning work: Sam is a recent recipient of the NATSAP Excellence in Service Award. Principal John Lawrence nominated him for the award, commending Sam for the time he has invested to help students be successful. “When students are struggling in other classes, Mr. Cummins does not hesitate to step in and offer support to the student and to the other classroom teachers . . . Whether working with students, communicating with parents or interacting with other staff, Mr. Cummins is one we can count on.”

Family: Sam and his wife have two daughters, ages six and four. Both are adopted, and both are blind. “God has really led both my wife and me to work with the visually impaired,” Sam says. They are getting ready to adopt a third child soon, from the Republic of Georgia.

samandfamily Meet Sam Cummins
Sam Cummins enjoys the Fourth of July with his wife and two daughters.

Outside work: Sam enjoys running, and recently completed the Kansas City Marathon. He also enjoys traveling and learning as much as he can about the world.

Best part of his role at Shelterwood: “I enjoy getting to connect with our students. Our students are accepting, talented people with great leadership skills, and I love seeing them meet their goals and use the adversity they have faced to become strong, resilient people. I love hearing from our graduates about the amazing ways they are facing the challenges in their life — our graduates are able to be of encouragement in their own communities, in part because of the skills we have given them here at Shelterwood. We are having an impact not only on individuals, but on communities across the country and around the world.”

Screen time and teens: How you can help

Is your teen spending too much time using technology? If you worry about your teen’s use of devices, you are not alone. A report by Common Sense Media indicates half of all young people feel they are addicted to their devices. Almost 60 percent of adults think their kids are addicted too, and a third of parents and teens say that they argue daily about screen time.

With today’s teenagers never knowing a world without the Internet, many struggle to use technology in a way that is healthy. “Our society is moving so quickly with technology that kids now have access to a very large social world that they may not have the maturity to navigate,” explains Ken DeBlock, Shelterwood Academy’s Director of Substance Abuse and Recovery. Learn more about technology addiction, why there is such a rise in the “screen time” challenge and how you can help your teen.

Technology addiction, defined

Ken characterizes addiction as someone engaging in behavior that is repetitive, and the person has lost control over that repetitive behavior. “So a teen might say, ‘I am just going to play games for one hour today,’ and then end up playing five hours every day of the week,” he explains. “It is okay to have a routine, but when you try to change that routine and find yourself unable to do so, that trends more toward an addiction than a routine.”

Technology addiction includes a wide range of behaviors and devices — video games, social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, television and video streaming and so much more. “We only have so many resources — including time, money and energy — and as something becomes addictive in your life, you put more time, money and energy into that thing,” Ken says. “For example, a teen may have been a straight A student and is now receiving Ds because they do not have the time or energy to invest in their schoolwork anymore.”

Why is technology addiction a growing problem for teens?

Not only are video games and online platforms marketed well to teens, Ken points to how they have evolved. Video games used to be designed around completing levels to win the game — think about games like Mario Cart — with the option to pause, save the game and come back to it another day.

“Over time, games and platforms have become more about rewards based on length of time you play. You build an online profile or online world, and your character gains access to bigger and better things based on how long you play . . . it is a cycle: the more someone plays or participates, the more they earn.”

Another feature in today’s games and social platforms is the focus on community. “It is a fundamental principle that people need connection,” Ken says. “Yet these devices provide a very different type of connection. Connection to other people is not through personal experiences, but through this online resource. This makes it easier for teens to project who they want to be and how they want to feel. There are many more opportunities to be inauthentic. These platforms center on a controlled environment that is easier to dictate than actual life.”

Another contributing factor to the rise of technology addiction is how ubiquitous technology is today. “This technology is just so prevalent in society. You can’t walk down the street and not see someone on their cell phone,” Ken says. “We have been constantly conditioned to look at these phones that we all carry in our pockets. Even if you take a day to turn off your own phone, you still hear other people’s chimes and buzzers. Even during class, if a teen has a phone in their pocket, the buzzer goes off. This is classic conditioning.”

How to tell if your teen is addicted — and how to help

One key sign that your teen may have an unhealthy relationship with technology is withdrawal from people and activities that used to bring joy. “Your teen does not hang out with friends anymore, does not go to church anymore, no longer enjoys extracurricular activities,” Ken says.

“When you talk about limiting technology and social media, how does your teen respond? Are they open to the conversation, or do they respond in a way that is argumentative?”

Another sign your teen may be struggling is secrecy surrounding technology use. It is important to differentiate privacy and secrecy, Ken says. “Privacy is healthy as a teenager grows up and matures, but secrecy is different. Do they hide their technology use from you?”

Helping your teen starts with healthy communication. Share your concerns openly, but with lots of empathy. “We’ve all fallen into the technology trap at some point. Your teen is not alone in this.” Guide your teen in setting up a structured plan for technology use, including a break from technology before bed to ensure healthy sleep. Make sure your teen has pathways for healthy recreational activities as well. Encourage your teen to participate in extracurricular activities and facilitate those options at home as well.

At Shelterwood, teens learn healthy social skills with no cell phones allowed on campus. They practice living a healthy lifestyle, including classes, counseling and fun technology-free activities. “We allow teens to practice healthy recreation with opportunities to swim in the pool, go for hikes, play in our soccer and basketball leagues and just enjoy being in community with others.”

Are you worried about your teen’s use of technology and the Internet? Take the first step toward restoration for your teen. Reach out to our admissions team today: 866.585.8939.

Three tips to help your teen set goals

With the new year around the corner, now is a great time to talk with your teen about goal-setting. Here are three strategies to facilitate your teen’s goals.   

1.) Guide your teen in identifying personal goals.

It is important to distinguish what it looks like to set goals for your teen and set goals with your teen. Aim for a collaborative approach: your teen’s goals should not be your goals for them. Rather, guide your son or daughter through the goal-setting process. Encourage them to start with goals they find exciting. Academic goals are a good place to begin, but goals can also stretch beyond the classroom. For example, if your teen is involved in a club, their goal can be to take on leadership roles in the activity.

Focus on realistic goals that are just out of reach. Good goals are also specific. Work together with your teen to break down their goal into practical, actionable steps. Use our downloadable goal worksheet goal sheet to help set them up for success. This sheet will help your teen commit to the process of following through and seeing their goals to fruition.Goal worksheet Shelterwood Help your teen set goals 791x1024 Three tips to help your teen set goals

2.) Cheerlead your teen en route to meeting goals

Show your teen that you are in their corner with consistent check-ins and encouragement. You want your teen to stay on track with their goals, but understand that we all have to adjust along the way. Affirm your teen’s efforts even if things do not go exactly as planned. Be respectful of their timeline, even if it doesn’t align with what you had in mind. This is their goal, and their progress depends on their commitment. Ask how you can help support them in achieving their goal. This shows you care and are always there for them.

3.) Follow up

Celebrate your teen’s wins. When they achieve certain milestones, encourage them to keep going. If they achieve a really big goal, gather your family to celebrate. Recognize all of the hard work they put into their success. This helps to build your teen’s confidence: having accomplished this goal, they will feel equipped to tackle even bigger goals.

If they do not achieve a goal, help your teen identify external factors and barriers that influenced the outcome. Motivate them to adjust their current goal or make a new one. It is okay to move forward; we all experience setbacks.

At Shelterwood, we know that encouraging your struggling teen can be difficult. We hope these tips can help you connect with your teen. If you feel frustrated and at a dead end, Shelterwood Residential Treatment Agency might be a good fit for your family. Call us today for a confidential assessment: (866) 585-8939.