PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- They've become known as Generation C -- you may know them as your own sons or daughters -- young children and teenagers whose lives have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
You may have noticed they've become more stressed, more anxious or depressed and are having trouble coping with the demands of family life and school. More have turned to drugs, violence and even suicide.
At Linton Middle School in Penn Hills, counselor Mary Wakefield runs a class called New Direction. In the past, students who've gotten in trouble for fights or disruptions would have gone to the principal's office. Now, they're sent to the New Direction class.
"You've got stress, anxiety," she said. "You have a number of things going on with these students."
A sixth-grader named Chase is one of those students. He's fallen behind academically after a year of hybrid and virtual learning.
Chase: It was bad.
Chase: It's hard to do my work at home. I get a lot of distractions when I'm in my house.
Another student named Davon endured a difficult re-entry into school because of fights.
"People talking about me, making me mad," he said. "I get angry — altercations and stuff."
Wakefield said it's not just their classroom learning that's a little rusty.
"They don't know how to socialize like they used to," she said. "Their academics have fallen far behind. So it's crucial that they be in class and learning, because it's affected them so much."
To keep students in school, New Direction has three classrooms -- a darkened, quiet room for calming; a private room where they can get individual attention and a group room where they discuss ways to better cope with the world.
"When we're here, we're trying to get you to rethink your decisions," Wakefield told the students. "If you've made a bad decision, we're trying to get you to think about how you could change it and make a good decision."
Mental health is a district-wide concern. In the hallways, traditional security guards are replaced with a team of Youth Engagement Specialists. They intercede in any fights and offer on-the-spot counseling to students starving for attention and in dire need of some assurance.
"A lot of them come up to my team (and ask), 'Can I talk to you?'" engagement specialist Bill Deely said. "A lot of them come up and start to cry with different problems they're having. A lot of it is based on the pandemic that we're going through."
Penn Hills Superintendent Nancy Hines put the pieces of the team in place prior to the pandemic in response to fights and gun violence. She said educators need to go deeper, addressing the whole student.
"We're going to save this generation," she said. "There's just no alternative answer. We have to do it. Whatever it takes we have to step up."
United Way Community Pulse Report
Safe 2 Say Something: 1-844-723-2729
Resolve 24/7 crisis services: 888-796-8226
Suicide prevention line: 1-800-273-8255
Suicide prevention text line: Text "HOME" to 74174
Center for Victims 24/7 Crisis Line: 1-866-644-2882
Trans Lifeline 24/7 hotline: 877-565-8860
Trevor Project for LGBTQIA+ youth 24/7 hotline: 1-866-488-7386
Trevor Project for LGBTQIA+ youth: Text "START" to 678678
PAAR (Pittsburgh Action Against Rape): 1-866-363-7273
Upstreetpgh.org for 12-22 year olds to CHAT NOW.
***Call 911 in an immediate safety or crisis situation***
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