Retired teacher continues to inspire excellence
By MARY JO WINTER / Cloverdale TOWNS Correspondent
When Sue Cummins retired from teaching in 2005, she never imagined it was going to be more like a figure of speech than an actual retirement
With a degree in Home Economics from UC Davis, Cummins came to Cloverdale with her husband, Rick, in 1971, and for the next 34 years taught Home Economics to thousands of students, including her own son and daughter, at Cloverdale High School.
She also spearheaded the school’s FHA-HERO (Future Homemakers of America – Home Economics Related Occupations) Program, a career technical student organization for those in grades 7-12 who are in Home Economics Careers and Technology Education programs in California.
Most schools with an FHA program have two or three teachers to run it. In Cummins’ case, she was the sole instructor, responsible for seven areas of preparation every day. The curriculum was extremely diverse, with classes ranging from cooking, sewing and childcare to resume preparation, interview techniques and public speaking.
The students held fundraisers so they could travel to regional, state and national competitions, regularly bringing home gold medals for their efforts. Several of her students also held regional and state offices.
Her husband, who also retired in 2005, was Director of Transportation for the district and the group’s official bus driver whenever they traveled to a district or state event.
Many of her former students remember their time in FHA fondly, acknowledging not only Cummins’ hard work and dedication to the program, but also her unwavering support for each of them as individuals.
Lisa Holton was Region 3 President the year she came down with a terrible case of poison ivy, causing her to miss about a week of school several weeks before a big State Meeting. She was in charge of creating the “Chapter Manual” documenting CHS’s FHA activities for the year and was on a strict deadline to get it done.
“Mrs. Cummins packed up one of the school’s computers and color printers and delivered them to my house with the instructions to finish the book,” she says. “I did finish and our book took first place in the State.”
About eight years ago, Cummins arranged for another of her FHA students to work at a local preschool to gain experience in child care for a Job Application and Resume competition. Last month she received a reference request from a university for this student who is now applying to a Master’s Program to become a Child Psychologist.
Cloverdale received several “Program of Excellence Awards’ over the years, and in 1987, Cummins was named FHA-HERO Advisor of the Year. She says her biggest honor, though, was being named Home Economics Teacher of the Year in 2004 by the Home Economics Teachers Association of California.
The same year Cummins retired, the Kiwanis Club started the Cloverdale High School chapter of Key Club, their youth organization whose primary focus is working on projects that benefit children. Kiwanis members Patti Robarts and Michael Laird had set their sights on her to help them launch and lead the new Club.
Within one week of officially closing the CHS chapter of FHA-HERO, she and Rick had joined Kiwanis and she became the Key Club’s new Advisor.
Like she did with her FHA students, she continually encourages her Key Clubbers to succeed. They fundraise for international organizations like Save the Rain, Unicef and March of Dimes, as well as take part community service activities, like singing carols at the nursing home, helping with the Cloverdale Food Pantry and wrapping presents for Christmas Wish Program.
The Key Clubbers have also formed strong friendships with the developmentally disabled students in the Special Day Class at CHS. They get together with them during the lunch hour every couple of weeks to work on crafts and other fun projects.
One of Cummins’ greatest gifts is helping kids recognize that they have the ability within them to do great things. “They are so fabulous and they don’t even know they’re fabulous,” she says.
As an example, one student who joined Key Club in her junior year later told Cummins that the experience gave her the confidence she needed to finally step outside her comfort zone and try something totally new. In her senior year, she not only became a varsity cheerleader, she was elected Student Body President.
“Key Club gives them a reference point for understanding the value of serving others,” says Cummins. “They begin to value and understand the good feeling that comes from helping someone else in a new way. And like FHA, it gives students an opportunity to learn how to set goals, make plans, follow through and then evaluate the outcome.”
Cummins has her students attend District, State and National Meetings because it gives them a perspective of life beyond Cloverdale. “Here they see thousands of other kids who are also doing great things, but with a totally different focus than theirs.”
In many ways, she feels Key Club is a better match for her than FHA because of the community service component.
“I also really appreciate the adult support from Kiwanis for activities and events,” she adds, “since I was pretty much on my own before, both physically and financially.”
Recently, when a family member passed away, Cummins and the Key Clubbers were in the middle of a major project. Kiwanis members stepped in to work with the students and make sure e project was completed so she could be with her family and not worry about leaving anything left undone.
As she reflects on her pseudo-retirement, the 64-year old Cummins says, “To tell you the truth, I really can’t imagine a retirement that completely eliminated working with students. I wouldn’t be a happy person. Emotionally, this fulfills me and gives me a purpose.”
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