Tych Cowdin’s passion for teaching, coaching and mentoring exemplifies the mission of Communities In Schools of Chatham County: to provide students a network of support empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. Cowdin enters his third year leading the agency after being hired as executive director in April 2020. With intentions set on sustaining and growing CISCC’s longstanding school and community-based programs, he says he looks at 2023 with an eye toward new opportunities to build connection across the county with partner agencies, resource providers, volunteers and donors in an effort to meet the growing needs of Chatham County’s under resourced and under-served youth and families.
Cowdin arrived in North Carolina from Topeka, Kansas, after completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Kansas in 2008 and his Masters of Business Administration at Washburn University in 2011. He’s held a variety of roles throughout his professional career, and joined the CISCC team in 2014 after two years as an Operations Assistant with the University of North Carolina football team. Over his eight years with CISCC, Cowdin has filled roles of student support specialist, program director, and now executive director. In his free time, you can find him firing up the grill, cheering on the Kansas Jayhawks, playing with his 1-year-old pit bulls Boogie and Otis, and enjoying the outdoors with his wife Courtney.
Looking back on 2022, what are some of your reflections?
As we reflect back on 2022, there is so much to celebrate and be thankful for. From assisting families with food and basic needs, advocating for racial equity in our support systems, providing students a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult, helping families navigate mental and physical health crises, connecting students with volunteer tutors and mentors, partnering with providers to facilitate yoga, hiking and reading groups, leading family skill building courses for parents, providing and advocating for translation and interpretation resources, and building social emotional resiliency in students, just to name a few, CISCC has answered our communities call for support. We are grateful to be in the space of leading students forward through transformative relationships, so all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential, and believe we can accomplish so much more in 2023 through effective collaboration across our network of partner agencies and dedicated volunteers.
One example that comes to mind when thinking of the power of partnerships occurred just a couple weeks ago as students prepared for the holiday break. With the combined efforts of partners from Chatham Community Church (67 warm coats), a generous community member (34 warm coats), Mountaire Farms (154 donated Thanksgiving and Christmas chicken boxes), and a group of Governor’s Club volunteers (150 basic needs/toiletries packages and over $3,300 in gift cards), CISCC was able to coordinate the collection and distribution of the gifts directly to families before the break. It was amazing to see the gratitude in the smiling faces of the recipients, and a special example of what can be accomplished when we all work toward a common goal utilizing our own unique strengths and abilities!
Our team has been privileged with the opportunity to build bridges, break down barriers, and provide critical and timely resources throughout 2022, and we do not take this responsibility lightly. I am so proud and honored to work alongside the awesome CISCC team. Our outcomes depend on our ability to generate meaningful connections with volunteers, partners agencies and resource providers all doing excellent and important work throughout the county to meet our true potential. Together, through these connections, we can multiply our work to further meet the growing needs of those we serve.
As one Chatham County Schools administrator noted, “I look forward to working with you all this year and just appreciate what CIS brings to the table! Our students will reap the benefits.”
What were your programs able to accomplish in 2022?
As each year presents new and unprecedented challenges, we continue to lean in to the North Star of our organization: developing programs founded in transformative relationships. These one-on-one relationships with caring adults (both staff and community volunteers) are a key to student success in school and in life. CISCC helps every student see his or her potential so they can fearlessly unlock it, creating access to resources and opportunities that help them see, confront and overcome the barriers that stand between them and their future.
2022 was a year of re-engagement and recovery for many. Our school and community-based teams did a remarkable job of deepening their relationships throughout our community through their re-engagement efforts with our key partners at Chatham County Schools and Chatham County’s Department of Juvenile Justice. In total, CISCC programs directly served 222 youths and their families with individualized case managed support.
As we continue to be data informed and outcome driven, we annually measure success by reviewing student outcomes based on their individual goal achievement data. Goal areas include attendance, behavior, coursework and social emotional learning. Over the course of the past year, CISCC program participants and our network of support achieved a great deal!
For School-Based programs:
• 89% of students with an attendance goal met or made progress toward their goal
• 86% of students with an academic goal met or made progress toward their goal
For Restorative Justice programs:
• 92% of families experienced enhanced family functioning
• 90% of youth participants had no new adjudications after starting the program
What’s ahead for 2023?
As we kick off the new year and the start of the second semester, we are excited to build on the successes and learn from the challenges of our work. The CISCC team, currently consisting of 13 staff members, will look to deepen support service and resource offerings by continuing to build transformative relationships that lead to student success.
At the heart of our partnership model are experienced practitioners (also known as student support specialists) that work full-time within schools to support and enhance their ability to meet the needs of at-risk students. Student support specialists are employed, trained and managed by a Communities In Schools of Chatham County which works in close partnership with school leadership to ensure their effectiveness. Within a school building, student support specialists help to identify and manage community partners, while also coordinating the delivery of school-wide resources and programs. Most importantly, student support specialists are focused on providing individualized support for a case load of students identified as at risk of dropping out.
We aim to strengthen internal leadership to further our work in Chatham County for years to come. As our staff continues to grow, we will invest and emphasize the importance of professional development, and making sure each team member has what they need to be successful in this demanding line of work. This includes ongoing training toward youth mental health first aid, race equity advocacy, student resiliency, and trauma informed care. We must increase our understanding of what students need to be successful, and implement these resources relentlessly with the support of our partners.
We will also be furthering our work around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). At the end of 2022, CISCC developed our DEI belief statement, with the support of CIS North Carolina, committing to the work driving our mission:
“Communities In Schools of Chatham County believes transformative relationships can change the world — one student at a time. We believe that all children, no matter their starting point, deserve safe and equitable opportunities to learn and grow in order to define their individual success in life. We will succeed by cultivating a community of support — grounded in the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion — to ensure all students have the resources, skills and experiences necessary to reach their full potential.”
Additionally, we will build capacity by growing the visibility of our work and raising awareness of opportunities to join our network of support across the County. We plan to hire a communications specialist in early January to address gaps in marketing, communications and resource development.
What do students need to be successful?
While academic achievement is clearly an important variable in the equation of student success, we must gain a clearer understanding of the full picture that impacts the “whole child” when it comes to outcomes in the classroom. It’s not just great teaching or attending a grade “A” school. Not everyone starts from the same spot, and understanding the importance and value of seeing situations through a lens of equity will go a long way in ensuring ALL students have the opportunity to reach their full potential. It will take a community wide approach with investment and commitment in delivering equitable resources through integrated supports to provide every single student what they need and deserve to be successful — a foundation of the Five Basics.
• I. A one-on-one relationship with a caring adult.
• II. A safe place to learn and grow.
• III. A healthy start for a healthy future.
• IV. A marketable skill to use upon graduation.
• V. A chance to give back to peers and community.
In addition to the Five Basics, learning depends on the social, emotional, physical and mental health of students. There are many systems that come together to support young people’s learning and development, including: schools, community organizations, health care providers and municipal and state agencies. Integrated student supports promote students’ academic success by securing and coordinating supports that target academic and non-academic barriers to achievement through partnership, collaboration and facilitation of evidence-based programs that support what we call the Whole Child. By utilizing our data, adopting a Whole Child approach, and building on existing systems of care we will set our children up to succeed both inside and outside of the classroom. Let’s continue to invest in our youth’s social capital through the understanding of the Five Basics, consideration of the Whole Child, and by utilizing existing resources to develop strong and strategic integrated student supports.
How can those interested in the work learn more and get involved?
At home, at school, and beyond — kids need you! At Communities In Schools of Chatham County, we are ALL IN! As we look to expand our network through intentional connection to meet the needs of more youth and families across the County in the year ahead, we need your support now more than ever. Our work relies heavily on our ability to effectively connect with volunteers, partners, and resource providers to deepen our impact and improve historically disparate outcomes for those we serve. If you are interested in joining our efforts, here are a few ways you can tap in to our movement of change.
1. Become a volunteer mentor: Interested in sharing your gifts and talents with a Chatham County youth? Call us today to find out more on how you can become a one-on-one mentor.
2. Become a partner agency or resource provider: Does your church, nonprofit agency or friend group want to help support our efforts? Reach out to email@example.com to share your thoughts on partnership and collaboration. Together, our potential is limitless!
3. Make a financial contribution: Our work depends on generous community members and grant makers to keep our work flowing. Consider making a financial contribution to expand our capacity to serve.
a. Online: Go to www.cischatham.org and click the ‘Donate’ button.
b. Check: Mail checks to CIS Chatham County, 208 N. Chatham Ave., Siler City, NC 27344
c. Call us — contact Perla Ayala or me at the CIS Chatham office: 919-663-0116
d. Donor Advised Fund Account: Consider a gift to “CISCC” EIN Tax ID#: 58-1849144
e. Become a Sustainer: Consider contributing monthly by becoming a CISCC sustainer
4. Join our board of directors or advisory committees: Do you have a passion for leadership? Join our board, or a working committee to share your talents with our team.
5. Start spreading the news: Are you inspired by our mission to surround students with a network of support? Help spread the word across the community by sharing and advocating for our efforts! Follow us on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn) or sign up to join our newsletter.
Are you ALL IN for kids? Reach out today to learn more about how you can make a positive impact on the lives of Chatham County youth and families in 2023 and beyond!