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CAYCI: Collaboration is key to supporting youth

CAYCI: Collaboration is key to supporting youth

November 3, 2023

The College of Social Work’s Community and Youth Collaborative Institute (CAYCI) is a hub of programming, teaching and research in positive youth development, school social work, youth sport and recreation, and family-school-community partnerships.

Programs such as LiFEsports teach life and leadership skills, while Coach Beyond trains coaches in how to better support student-athletes. Partnerships with schools, such as the Early College Academy in downtown Columbus, Ohio and across the country. Indeed, CAYCI has an outstanding national reputation for providing evidence-based, valid and reliable school climate survey instruments.

“We interact with schools in many different ways,” says Olivia Rozsits (MSW ’23), assistant director of school partnerships at CAYCI. As one example, the team collects data using the School Experience Surveys to measure what’s working and to identify opportunities for improvement. Surveys are used to elevate the voices of students, teachers and parents/caregivers at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

“We need data,” says CAYCI director Dr. Dawn Anderson-Butcher. The survey tools CAYCI uses have been developed over many years and piloted with schools in Utah and Ohio. As of today, school districts across the country, including Arizona and Connecticut for example, are working with consultants at CAYCI to implement the surveys as part of their school improvement plans.

The work is influential in schools and communities, helping to bring partners together to make positive changes in the lives of youth. “Being a part of that school’s planning and evaluation can hopefully make a big difference for their staff, students and families,” says Rozsits. “It’s an honor and privilege to be a part of this team. I appreciate getting to share the surveys and work with the schools.”


Anderson-Butcher has been working with the Canyons School District in the Salt Lake City, Utah, area for more than a decade.

“Utah had the highest rate of student death by suicide in the country,” says Anderson-Butcher. Her work led to the implementation of the Canyons School District Community Schools Initiative, which uses the evidence-based Community Collaboration Model. The model is best known for expanding traditional school improvement efforts and helping leaders identify in-school and out-of-school strategies to support students and families. School-family-community partnerships are at the core.

“Schools transform into hubs of support where families can go for help,” says Anderson-Butcher.

Services may be offered at the school or linked to an outside resource.


Founded in 2009, LiFEsports, a positive youth development program, teaches life and leadership through sport. Kethan Mokadam, an undergraduate social work major and research assistant, has worked with LiFEsports for the past year. “I love going to work,” he says. “I’m grateful to be in the position I’m in, doing something I love so much.”

Mokadam is also part of the most recent extension of CAYCI and LiFEsports: Coach Beyond. This training program, developed with the Ohio High School Athletic Association, aims to educate 15,000 coaches about mental wellness and positive youth development practices by 2024.

“We’re using sport to de-stigmatize mental health,” says Samantha Bates (PhD ’18), assistant professor in the College of Social Work. “We can connect it to play and kids’ health and development. We know that having one caring adult in your corner can make a huge difference in a kid’s life.”

Coaches in schools and communities are central to CAYCI’s collaborative efforts to support the health and development of all youth. School districts in Ohio that are partnered with Coach Beyond include Mansfield, Akron, Hilliard, Dublin, Princeton, Newark, Elgin, Wheelersburg, Logan-Hocking, Granville, North Union and Canal Winchester.


The Early College Academy (ECA) is another program that provides caring adults and mental health support for youth. Students working within CAYCI intern at ECA and interact with students who have been pushed or pulled out of traditional school environments.

“We are a second-chance school,” says superintendent Jonathan Stevens. “The majority of our kids are credit deficient. They may have missed school for years, often because of trauma or tragedy.”

Stevens sought assistance from leaders within CAYCI after he became superintendent. He believes the partnership and the annual placement of social work interns are central to ECA’s mission.

“They are part of our staff,” says Stevens. “They bring their own talents and gifts. They have tools teachers don’t possess, and that allows the teachers to focus on academics.”

Amber White, an MSW student, will be at ECA in the 2023–24 school year. She returned to Ohio State for her master’s degree because she wanted to work with kids.

“I want to be the person I needed when I was a teenager,” she says. She hopes that her efforts will help reduce the stigma around seeking therapy, which she witnessed in her own family.

Jacob Agoston (BSSW ’23) served as an intern last school year at ECA. “I felt like I was valued as part of the team,” he says. Prior to his work with ECA, Agoston was unaware of the importance of school social workers. “We can have so much impact,” he says. “Giving kids resources and tools is incredibly helpful.”

Stevens agrees: “Schools need a social worker.”


Read more stories like this in the Stillman Magazine