Cathy Cummins Enriches San Antonio Academy for Over 25 Years
Published in 2013
In a classroom under the staircase, on the bottom floor of Taylor Hall, a group of four and five year olds are listening with rapt attention to the teacher in their midst. They are so enthralled by this gentle, soft-spoken woman who makes learning so much fun, they don’t even realize that, under her guidance, they are becoming highly proficient readers.
That teacher is Cathy Cummins, a woman who has spent the past 43 years as an educator, and over 25 of those years educating the young men of San Antonio Academy. Although her name is synonymous with reading, Cummins’ reach and influence has extended far beyond the walls of San Antonio Academy and into the city of San Antonio as a whole. Through Summer at the Academy, various enrichment programs, and of course the popular Early Bird Reading, Cummins has spent the past quarter of a century exposing boys and girls in the community to the wonderful opportunities available at San Antonio Academy.
Cummins, who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology and a master’s degree in education, began her career at San Antonio Academy as an art teacher in 1987. After just one year, this forward-thinking educator began a summer program for ranching families that attracted 800 children. Today, that program is Summer at the Academy, a program that draws thousands of children from San Antonio and surrounding areas onto the SAA campus for hands-on enrichment activities including cooking, building, magic, sports, crafting, science and more.
“We started this program because people were hungry for good academics and good enrichment,” says Cummins. “The program draws a lot of people to San Antonio Academy, and many of them go on to enroll their sons.”
Cummins adds that the classes are just as popular with the girls who, as she explains, can also benefit from the traditions and programs offered through SAA.
“Enrichment opens up a child’s entire world and builds reference points in their minds,” she says with passion. “Those reference points are important for vocabulary building, reading, and instilling a lifelong interest in learning. “
Cummins, who serves as the Director of the Enrichment program, demands only the best when it comes to teaching children. You won’t find Xeroxed copies and coloring sheets in her enrichment programs, but rather lots of hands-on and interactive learning designed to challenge and stimulate young minds.
“We make it fancy,” she chuckles. “And we have really good instructors.”
Getting an “Early” Start
Cummins understands what it means to be a “really good instructor,” as is evidenced by the waiting list for her Early Bird Reading program. A voracious reader herself, Cummins first developed the program while teaching at St. Luke’s Episcopal School.
Using Orton-based phonograms in combination with art projects, word games, and handwriting exercises, Cummins opens up the fascinating world of reading to the more than 7000 boys and girls who have passed through the doors of her Early Bird classroom.
She has developed her own set of flashcards, “Phonopics,” to further enhance the program. The cards, which are beautifully illustrated by Harvey S. Williams, feature a fun and colorful picture for sound of every letter, as well as information about each phonogram including its origin, pronunciation and usage within a word.
It’s all part of Cummins’ “learning should be fun” approach, which she carries over to the hundreds of SAA primary boys who come to her classroom every day for reading, phonics, creative writing and English as part of the school’s Reading Institute.
Through the Reading Institute, Cummins will often plan lessons that are in conjunction with what the boys are learning in other subjects. An average school year finds her planning three or four “extras” per grade that are extensions of the teachers’ curriculum, such as the second grade Greek Festival for example.
San Antonio Academy Head of School, John Webster, calls Cummins “the best reading instructor” he has seen in his nearly 45 years in education. Perhaps that is because Cummins firmly believes that reading is the basis from which all other learning stems.
“Children learn to read, and then they read to learn,” she says.
It is a philosophy that Cummins takes to the community through training workshops for other schools, through adult phonics instruction, and through free parenting lectures held at SAA. She is like an ambassador of San Antonio Academy, increasing and enhancing the school’s image and presence, not only in the Alamo City, but also across the Lone Star state.
A Heartfelt Purpose
As much as Cummins says she loves reading and teaching others to read, she couldn’t do it for so many years without having a strong love for children, a quality she shares with Webster. She credits the Head of School for his unwavering trust and support when it comes to implementing her ideas.
“John Webster believes in the best for the child,” says Cummins. “He loves children and so do I.”
That love is seen throughout Cummins’ life, whether she is developing special enrichment programs for children with Downs-Syndrome, conducting enrichment trips to Mexico for language immersion, serving as a private tutor for children with dyslexia, or developing curriculum and teaching preschool children of low-income families.
And, although each and every child that comes through her doors is special to Cummins, it is her San Antonio Academy boys who hold a special place in this beloved teacher’s heart—and the feeling is mutual!
“It is my goal for these boys to be well-rounded and lifelong learners,” she says of the young men of SAA. “Plus, I just love teaching these boys. We have so much fun together.”