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New program at McKeesport Area School District focuses on making connections and addressing violence

New program at McKeesport Area School District focuses on connection and addressing uptick in violen
New program at McKeesport Area School District focuses on connection and addressing uptick in violen 02:58

MCKEESPORT, Pa. (KDKA) -- A new program at McKeesport Area School District is focused on the power of connection and addressing the recent uptick in school violence. 

Last week, a teacher was sent to the hospital with a dislocated shoulder after breaking up a fight. But the district is all in on a new program to get the students to open up and vent anger before it turns violent.

Troy Brown tells KDKA-TV's Meghan Schiller it's not just about addressing trauma and behavioral issues but making lasting connections.

"It's definitely challenging but as long as you got 10 toes deep into the community, the challenge is never too big," said Brown, the lead staff supervisor of YESS team at Pressley Ridge.

KDKA-TV met with Brown and his boss Benetta Thomas in the hallways of Founder's Hall Middle School. They're crucial to the success of McKeesport's YESS team (Youth Engagement Support Services) through Pressley Ridge.

Thomas worked on the YESS team at Penn Hills and launched the program this year in McKeesport. The team focuses on mediations, de-escalation, monitoring lunches, the hallways and much more. 

"We want to be able to instill positive behaviors. Take the negative, turn it into a positive, build something successful for them whenever they actually step foot out in the real world," said Thomas.

McKeesport uses grant money to pay around $40,000 a month to Pressley Ridge for the team of seven spread out across the district. 

Brown tells KDKA-TV the kids call him "Coach Troy" and his role focuses on relationship building.

"Any time we can talk to a kid, get him to open up, even if it doesn't make a difference right at that point, eventually it will," he said. 

He floats between the middle and high school and says he already has a jump start since he's from the neighborhood and coaches several sports. 

"I mean, I was one of these kids 30, 40 years ago. I was one of these kids and just showing them that there's somebody that's been in your shoes and walked in your footsteps and just try to lead them in the right direction," said Brown.

According to the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU), McKeesport's YESS team is "staffed by Pressley Ridge and funded by Project SEEKS SES, a partnership between the AIU and the Allegheny County Health Department that addresses trauma, behavior and mental health issues in ten school districts."

McKeesport's superintendent, Dr. Tia Wanzo, says it's not perfect but it's a positive step and parents are now coming up to her not to complain but to compliment the unique initiative.

"And she said, 'I know you don't want to talk shop, but I want to let you know my daughter was having an issue at the high school and I kept hearing about this YESS team that stepped in so it didn't get to the point that it escalated.' So she said, 'I just wanted to point out to you that it was helpful and I'm very thankful that you have this in your district,'" said Dr. Wanzo.

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