Ch@t: What do our students need in order to succeed?

Posted 12/20/19

Tych Cowdin’s passion for teaching, coaching and mentoring exemplifies the mission of Communities In Schools for Chatham County: to give students a network of support and to empower them to stay in …

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Ch@t: What do our students need in order to succeed?

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Tych Cowdin’s passion for teaching, coaching and mentoring exemplifies the mission of Communities In Schools for Chatham County: to give students a network of support and to empower them to stay in school and achieve in life. As the program director for CIS’ school-based programs, Cowdin has spent the last five years with CIS working in Chatham schools to help students succeed. His focus is on supporting the three CIS model schools and Youth FIRST programs after spending his first years with the program as a student support specialist at Chatham Middle School. He also assists with social media communications, expansion support and community engagement. Tych 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. Tych has held a wide variety of roles throughout his professional career, and joined the CIS of Chatham County team after two years as an Operations Assistant with the University of North Carolina football team. Tych has been a teacher, coach, and mentor, and is excited for the opportunity to utilize his people skills and passion for community development. In his free time, you can find Tych firing up the grill, cheering on the Jayhawks, playing with his 13-year-old pitbull named Slim, and enjoying the outdoors with his wife Courtney.

You’ve been working closely with students for a long time. Can you talk about the power of a caring adult in a student’s life, and the importance of engaged volunteers in the education community?

Close your eyes and take a second to think back to your childhood. Whose voice comes to mind pushing you to set big goals for yourself? Who gave you encouragement while setting the example for how to live a healthy and happy life through consistent love and support? For many of us, we think of our parents or relatives, for others it is a coach, counselor, church member, or family friend. For many students in Chatham County, this critical influence is absent. With no one to turn to for advice, experiences, questions about life, or someone to reflect with — many of our children miss out on this critical element in their development to adulthood. Mentors help build up social capital for their mentees — skills, knowledge, expertise and information. Most importantly, however, mentors give children confidence and support when they need it most. It’s their super power to change the trajectory of a young person’s life, and the evidence of their magic is everywhere.

Serving Chatham County primarily as a mentoring agency for over 30 years, Communities In Schools Chatham County has generated a large network of volunteer mentors and program alumni whose lives have been changed through the immeasurable influence of one caring adult. Last year we worked with 163 volunteers who gave an astonishing 6,511 service hours through various roles, including: mentor matches, lunch buddies, supervising teen court, serving on our board of directors, and acting as supervisors at the numerous community service worksites throughout the county — to name a few. These cherished volunteers serve as the pillars of our work, and have played a significant role in the overall health of our community through their years of engagement. Without their continued involvement and leadership, our work would cease to exist. We must never underestimate the power of one caring adult.

Can you talk about CIS’s Five Basics, the Whole Child, and the role of integrated student supports>

Today, it seems like everyone is focused on academic achievement when judging the overall potential for students to achieve in school and in life. While academic achievement is certainly important, we must understand what it takes for a child to be successful in the classroom. It’s not just great teaching. It takes a community wide effort and investment in resources of integrated student supports, and starts with what every young person deserves, the Five Basics.

1. A one-on-one relationship with a caring adult.

2. A safe place to learn and grow. Many children know they’re living in a bad, unhealthy place, where violence, drugs, gangs, unemployment and multigenerational poverty are commonplace. Every child deserves a safe, appropriate environment in which to learn and pursue their dreams.

3. A healthy start and a healthy future. Children can’t concentrate on school work if they are hungry, cold, in need of medical care, or have trouble seeing the teacher. Basic health and human services are essential for every child. When families are themselves in need, it’s up to the community to step in. We must continue to help connect students and families with health care, food programs, parenting resources, mental health services, substance abuse prevention and intervention, sports and recreation programs, and much more.

4. A marketable skill to use upon graduation. Our children must acquire the knowledge, self-respect and discipline they’ll need in order to secure a future for themselves and their families. Gaining marketable skills to use upon graduation is a critical variable in setting students up for success.

5. A chance to give back to peers and community. Every child ought to have a chance to give back. The community must create environments for young people in which everyone’s gifts are nurtured, and service to others is expected and rewarded.

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 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 does CIS do community building?

We often find ourselves standing in between donors and the communities we serve by perpetuating the notion that the people we serve are “others.” Well, it’s not us and them. It’s just...us. We are one community and each of our fates are tied to one another. It is more critical now than ever to gain the understanding that the well being of “others” is directly related to the wellbeing of ourselves and our community. Chatham County is one of the most charitable counties in the state, but I know we can all do more to see ourselves in each other. The success of our world depends on us all believing that we are all interconnected.

There’s a lot of discussion in the community now about ACES — Adverse Childhood Experiences — and their impact. Can you explore that for us?

There has been a great deal of research presented recently linking Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) to negative health outcomes, including risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential and early death. It’s widely known that numerous youth in our community experience many forms of ACEs growing up: witnessing violence, substance abuse, mental health needs, parental separation or incarceration, among others. It is true that a high number of ACEs negatively impacts social, emotional, and cognitive development.

Understanding this, we must build on the strategies to prevent and overcome the negative consequences of ACEs to develop an adequate level of resilience to see us through. We must strengthen economic supports to families by creating greater household financial security and family friendly work policies. We must promote social norms that protect against violence and adversity. We must ensure a strong start for children built around the Five Basics, consideration of the Whole Child, and integrated student/family supports. We must build stronger connections between youth and caring adults through mentoring. Much of this work is happening now, but we can do so much more!

Demand for these services, resources, and connections from both schools and families is high. At CIS, we are on the pulse, and have the ability to meet some of these evolving needs. But it will take innovation, creative and collaborative problem solving, and a resilient mindset to break the vicious cycle generated by generations of youth growing up with ACEs. The outcome will be a community full of resilient leaders prepared to thrive in a world full of evolving challenges and opportunities.

What else can the community do to support our students?

There is great work going on throughout our community. We see it every day. We are all doing our best to serve. But let’s start utilizing each other’s strengths, and strengthening areas of weakness, by sharing resources and networks of connection to benefit the greater good. We can achieve so much more by working together with the belief that helping one helps us all. We are growing the leaders of tomorrow right here, right now. Let’s give our students a reason to stick around and/or come back and lead our community forward. Our future depends on it, and the time for action is now!

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