By Pamela Dozois
Ian Cummings has a passion for the underserved, the knowledge to make a difference in the lives of students, and the tenacity and resolve to make it happen.
He is the founding director of LoyalTeach, a program that helps students achieve their highest academic goals. He is a tutor, a college counselor, and educational consultant.
Cummings taught at Midland School for 22 years and quit in 2014 without a plan for his future.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do next but I began to read about something called ‘Under Matching’ in college admissions. Under Matching describes the tendency of low income, high achieving high school students to aim low in their college applications. They tend not to apply to highly selective colleges that are looking for students of their caliber,” explained Cummings.
“I am a fiscally sponsored project of a 501c3, the Social Good Fund, based in Richmond, Calif. The money I receive from the clients goes into the project out of which I am paid,” said Cummings.
The vast majority of college access organizations are concentrated in about 15 urban areas, he said, and students outside those areas are being underserved.
“I thought there must be a need in North Santa Barbara County for someone to provide college counseling to low income students,” said Cummings.
“I started working with students in the fall of 2016. I provide private college counseling and tutoring services. Wealthy people pay $75 per hour for a tutor or $200 an hour for a college counselor. Low to middle income families can’t afford that. I charge on a sliding scale. Some people pay only $5 per hour. After they receive 20 hours of service it becomes free. A family who pays $5 a session is guaranteed not to have to pay for more than $100 in total and the service may go on for years.
“I work with people of all income levels but because I also have a contract with Peoples’ Self Help Housing (PSHH) I also work with their residents and other local families in Santa Maria Valley. PSHH sponsors the students by paying for the service. I don’t deny anyone the service.”
“At Peoples’ Self Help Housing our goal is to support our students from kindergarten to and through college and career. Ian is definitely helping our students prepare for college in a strategic way, leading to more options for educational equity. We are so excited to have Ian on our College Club team,” said Alejandra Mahoney, director of education for Peoples’ Self Help Housing.
Cummings is also connected to a private family foundation, which wishes to remain anonymous. Cummings explained that the foundation generally sponsors two students a year, providing full “last dollar” funding for these students. In essence this means that the foundation covers all the students’ last expenses. They wait for all the financial aid to come in for the student from various sources and then cover all the remaining expenses and existing loans, enabling the students to have a free education.
“I’ve connected two students with this family’s foundation, one of whom is a resident of Los Alamos who is in her second year at Cal Poly Pomona,” said Cummings. “I helped her while she was attending Righetti High School, working with her during her senior year, helping her with the process of applying to college. She had been accepted to Cal Poly Pomona but financial aid couldn’t meet her family’s needs. She was bound and determined to go to Cal Poly and the foundation has committed to giving her about $20,000 a year for four years to cover all her educational expenses after financial aid and other scholarships. She has to graduate in four years, maintain a 3.0 GPA, and not take out any loans – in essence she is going to college for free.”
Cummings first intention was to focus his work in the Santa Ynez Valley but it turned out that he found more receptivity to the work in Santa Maria. He has students from Carpinteria to Guadalupe, but most are in Santa Maria and Los Alamos areas.
“The primary work we do is one-on-one direct service, in the home, with the student and the family there. It’s a level of individual attention and individualized service the low income students don’t usually have access to,” he explained. “We have students we have been working with for three years – we have students we work with on a weekly basis – for an hour typically. We support our students not just to college but through college.”
“Most of my kids have had a strong sense of what they want to do in life,” said Cummings. “Almost all of our students are from immigrant families, not by design. That’s just what happens if you seek to work with low income families in this area.”
“My colleague is Eduardo Pena and he lives in Solvang. He took on six students three years ago and continues to work with four of them,” said Cummings.
“My hope is to expand the program but my biggest issue is can I raise enough money to do that. I’ve been basically a one-man-operation for the past three years and would like to expand. At some point this project needs to support one or more full-time employees because right now I am the only employee and I’m not full time, although I work a full-time schedule,” explained Cummings. “The need is out there – but I need to take the next step to bring in more revenue in order to help more students.”
Most of the support Cummings has comes from private contributions and he has also done some grant writing. The challenge for him is that he’s the service provider and the administrator of the project and the project is growing so he’s spending more time providing services which leaves less time for fundraising.
“We started with two students and are now working with 42 students,” said Cummings. “We’ve made a difference in the lives of many of my students, like guiding them to college funding they didn’t know they were eligible for; kids in college have applied for and received college credit that they had earned through Advance Placement exams taken in high school; I know kids who are attending the college they’re at because of us, whether it is the University of Rochester or Cal State Channel Islands. I have two students who would not have met the requirement for Cal State admission without us. One student just attended the summer program Adventure Risk Challenge; other students have taken Advance Placement or Honors classes because of us.
“Students who attend Allan Hancock can obtain a ‘Transfer Admission Guarantee’ which says if you earn a 3.4 GPA at Hancock you are guaranteed admission into the UC System as a transfer, but you have to apply,” Cummings said. “I had a student who knew about the TAG program and qualified but she didn’t apply because she just didn’t believe that it could apply to her – just others.
“We do not provide college funding but do help out with unexpected expenses with ‘Educational Justice Grants’ for unexpected or unfair expenses that burden the student’s possible advancement, undermining our mission. We are changing people’s lives,” said Cummings.
“This is the best thing I have done in my life. I was really proud to be a part of Midland School for as long as I was, but I feel I have now found my calling and this is all I want to do,” Cummings said.
Cummings still lives at Midland, as his wife Lynda continues to work there as college counselor. They have a son, Sean, who works for the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County and a daughter, Emily, who is a freshman at Pomona College.
For more information or to donate, visit loyalteach.org, email email@example.com or call 805-316-4942.