This is one in a series in which readers share why their local school is special. Atlantic City High School English teacher Aase Schults wrote about special education teacher Pete Cummins.
"Atlantic City High School is special for many reasons. I happen to have a class next to the special education room taught by Mr. Pete Cummins, so I know a lot about what happens there. I see the experience the kids get in everyday life, like going to the store to buy groceries or helping to vacuum the library. Every day my classes and I get to smell the delicious meals they prepare … and sometimes hear the noises and screams that some of the special kids make. I tell my students when those noises occur that they need to count their blessings that they can sit and learn algebra and Shakespeare and anything their minds can conceive … unlike some of our neighbors.
"What many don't know is that when Mr. Cummins stays late many nights to sell refreshments at the basketball games, it is not because he makes money doing so. He stays to help his kids: they get more experience in cooking and selling, and the money made goes into an account from which each is given a sum to buy clothing for themselves, giving them even more life skills. Pete is here from very early in the morning to very late at night, and many Saturdays, not for himself but for his beloved kids. Teachers like Pete Cummins make Atlantic City High School a very special place indeed."
Aase Schults, Atlantic City High School
Pete Cummins teaches a Life Skills Transition class to students ages 14 to 21 who have moderate cognitive impairments. He has taught special education students for all of his 38 years in teaching, 34 of them in Atlantic City. This year, he has 11 students in his class at the high school.
By law, students with disabilities can stay in school until they are 21. Much of the focus in their last few years is teaching job and life skills that will give the students some measure of independence once they graduate.
Students have learned how to use public transportation and do their own banking and shopping. Some get part-time jobs in the school cafeteria or in the laundry at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus. In recent classes, students got money to go shopping and made spaghetti and meatballs.
"These are all things we take for granted," Cummins said of the life-skills lessons. "We'll go clothes shopping, try things on, talk about how to tell what sizes to get and how things fit."
The class also goes on social excursions to plays and roller skating, where they learn how to interact in public.
Cummins got involved with Special Olympics while he was in high school. He said that was when he decided he wanted a career working with students with disabilities. He also works with their parents on guardianship issues.
"I knew in high school that this is what I wanted to do," he said, "And I still enjoy it."
Parent Donna Ritondo also submitted a letter about Pete Cummins and one of her son's aides, Jim Bair.
"As a mom of twin autistic boys who attend ACHS, I had to write this letter.
Mr. Cummins has done more for my children than anyone I have ever come across in 18 years of therapies, doctors, schools, etc.
Mr. Cummins is truly an expert on teaching kids with disabilities. His patience is sincere and his calm demeanor produces positive changes in his students. I saw my son Nick sit at the table at home and do math with no calculator, writing and saying 'carry the one' and doing it correctly. I cried! Mr. Cummins taught him this!
That's not all. Nick (severely autistic) can read now! Nick has learned more than ever in his life in the past four years and he is happy going to school. He has had the opportunity to learn, socialize and have fun on all the field trips. Nick is treated like a regular kid, it truly warms my heart! What more could a parent ask for?
Jim Bair is the aide for my son Anthony. It is obvious that this is not just a job to him.
He has given up his personal time to go on a field trip to New York with Anthony's photography class. He has taken the time to really understand Anthony's special learning needs and personality. He is always available when I call with questions, and he calls me with school changes, texts me pictures from field trips, etc.
Please do not take these two professionals lightly. This kind of dedication is rare."
Contact Diane D'Amico: