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.

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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.”

School year success: What parents can do now

Being proactive now can help your teen feel greater confidence when school starts. Sam Cummins, Shelterwood Dean of Student Services, shares our tips on what parents can do over the summer to help teens start the school year on the right foot.

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1.) Show, don’t tell.

Showing your teen what to do carries much more weight than telling them what to do. “One of the biggest things I’ve learned as both a parent and an educator is that parents need to model the behaviors they want to see in their children,” Sam says. “When your teen sees you practicing certain habits, there’s nothing better.”

2.) Build on both strengths and weaknesses.

Spend some time reflecting on both your child’s strengths and weaknesses from the past school year. “If your teen had a tough year in math, for example, help them with some enrichment activities there,” Sam says. Look for resources both through your local library and online. Khan Academy is an especially helpful platform that guides students in learning different concepts. Allowing teens to dive deeper into areas where they excel is also a smart summer strategy. Encourage them to pursue subjects they really enjoy.

3.) Begin ACT and SAT prep.

Just 10 minutes a day can make an impactful difference when it’s time for your teen to take college entrance exams. “After your teen does some practice questions, take some time to look together at the answers. Help your teen notice why she got certain questions right and why she got certain questions wrong. Then, approach those areas where knowledge gaps need to be filled.” Teens can be reluctant about test prep, so encourage them to start with a few minutes each day. This attainable goal sets your teen up for success.

4.) Model work-life balance.

“For many teens, their schedules are crowded during the school year. So summer can be a good time to model a healthy work-life balance for your teen,” Sam says. “Teens can feel like they are under lots of pressure during the school year and so they do not learn healthy ways to have fun. Think of ways that you can do some positive leisure activities together.” Sam and his daughter enjoy going for hikes together, for example.

5.) Start healthy habits now.

Creating new habits happens gradually, so set the stage for healthy habits now. “Especially as you move into July, it’s time to start slowly turning the ship.” Again, modeling smart behavior goes much farther with teens. If your teen has been staying up late and sleeping in, start the shift as a family with earlier bedtimes. “Starting small can be helpful and can show your teen what it looks like to make positive changes in life.

Ultimately, Sam says, focus on using time this summer to build a relationship and earn influence with your teen. “As a parent, you don’t have to have it all together and you don’t have to be perfect,” Sam says. “Starting small can be helpful.”

College Readiness at Shelterwood

When a student enters a therapeutic boarding school, parents may fear their teen’s college dreams are over. But for Shelterwood students, it’s often the opposite. From our top-tier academics to ACT and SAT preparation, we work hard to help students get ready for higher education on all fronts.

“Just because they’ve entered into a therapeutic boarding school, that doesn’t change their goals,” says Sam Cummins, M.A. Ed., Instructional Specialist at Shelterwood. “It’s not a dead end for higher education. Actually, the door to college is more open than ever.”

Sam has been at Shelterwood for nearly four years. In addition to leading the independent and online studies program, he guides students in preparation for the ACT and SAT exams.

“The way we help students prepare for college entrance exams has really evolved over the past few years,” Sam says. Shelterwood students have an individualized test prep plan. “Since our students come from many different backgrounds and ability levels, it’s important that they can move at their own pace.”

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Sam Cummins guides Shelterwood students in ACT and SAT exam preparation.

For both ACT and SAT prep, Sam guides students through on online preparation program. Prep for these tests begins with a diagnostic pre-test, which helps students identify areas in which they are weak. Next, students take a deep dive into these subjects and get trained on the types of questions where they struggle. They’re tested again on these concepts to ensure learning.

Test prep at Shelterwood also covers test taking habits and how to prepare for the test day. Shelterwood helps students with test logistics too, from registration to transportation to and from the exam.

College preparation at Shelterwood extends far beyond test prep. “We offer opportunities both for remedial and for accelerated instruction,” Sam explains. Students in an unhealthy high school environment, for example, may benefit from the chance to complete high school courses earlier and receive their diploma ahead of schedule — so they’re ready to start college earlier. Other students may be very close to high school graduation when they enter Shelterwood; they can seize opportunities for college classes to stay ahead of the curve.

Ultimately, Sam explains, students are better prepared for college because of their time at Shelterwood. “We’re going to work with students not just on their outward behaviors and academic skills, but also their hearts, the way they view themselves and on their goals. We address social skills and heart skills so our teens are ready for college,” he says.

By addressing our students’ educational and therapeutic needs, Shelterwood produces strong results. “We’re seeing students do very well and many are accepted to competitive universities,” Sam says. “It’s important to us to help students achieve their goals.”