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!”
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.
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.”