August 8, 2022

The Kids Aren’t All Right

PITTSBURGH — One year ago, Lena Carson was pulling straight A’s at the city’s Creative and Performing Arts Magnet school, located across the river from her parents’ home. She also swam at the local YMCA every day in preparation for the annual state competition and enjoyed the everyday social life of a teenager.

Today, she is sitting at home. Again.

It has been nearly a year since she was able to walk into CAPA, to which she had to earn admission through a portfolio of her work, and interact with her teachers or friends.

Her daily swims are gone, along with her social life. Her outside activities have diminished to walking the dog around the block.

In the beginning, like most teenagers, she thought of it as an extended snow day. When days turned to weeks, what started as an escape from school went from fun to dread. “In the beginning, I was like, I have this time off, it’s going to be so fun, and now going to school is all I want,” she said.

The hardest part for her is all of the false starts. “Four times over the past year, we’ve been told we were going back, given a date, and then a few days before, and sometimes a day before, we are supposed to get to the classroom, they abruptly change the rules,” she said.

It tugs at her emotions. “They’ve told us four different times that we are going to go back to school, and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I get to see my friends. I get to wear my clothes to school. I get to learn with my peers. Then I’ll get to go to swim practice,'” Carson explained of the routines of her young life that she’s lost.

“It is really disappointing whenever they say, ‘Oh, never mind,'” she says. “And I understand that there’s risks and there’s dangers, but it’s also, just, it really takes away your motivation.”

A bright student who skipped a grade, her straight A’s have dipped to D’s, and Lena says she struggles to complete assignments, not because she can’t but because of the lost will. “I have nothing to look forward to,” she said.

The Pittsburgh Board of Education recently announced that Pittsburgh Public Schools students will not return to buildings until at least April, marking the fourth time in 12 months the district announced students would return to classes only to rescind the opening just before the doors were set to open. The board voted 7-2 for the plan, with the members citing health and safety for students and staff.

The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers president said keeping the students out of the schools is the wise thing to do until the whole teaching staff has gotten the COVID-19 vaccine.

The roller coaster of openings and closures is also the most challenging part for her parents, said Carson’s father, Dr. Paul Carson, a hospitalist who spends his days and nights in the COVID-19 ward at the local city hospital.

The frontline worker said he knows it is not just his 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son who are flailing during this isolation. “Kids need to be in school, and parents need to speak up about this for no other reason than the sake of their education and mental health,” he said.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that beginning with the closings last spring, emergency rooms across the country experienced a spike in the number of visits from children under 18 for mental health needs.

Carson is frustrated with the school board’s and teachers unions’ mangling children’s lives. He is even more frustrated as a physician, as he sees the CDC head confirm what he already knew. It is possible to get children to school safely without hinging the return on vaccines.

“My kids are flailing,” he says sadly.

He is also frustrated that many parents remain silent because of the social outcasting that happens when you do so — when he posted his frustrations with the school system on the neighborhood Facebook page, few agreed with him in public.

“People are unwilling to get in the crosshairs publicly of something that has nothing to do with politics, but they are afraid it might appear political,” explained Carson, adding that his Facebook direct messages told a different story. “Overwhelmingly, people agreed with me,” he said.

Carson was willing to put his neck out there because he cares about not only his children but also this whole generation of students.

And different political perspectives should never be part of the equation.

“This isn’t a left-right problem,” he said. “It’s a unilateral problem. This is our children. They need to go back to school. We need to follow the science. That’s my main point, and I am unwilling to have my children’s education held hostage any longer.”

Regarding online school, Lena said, “It’s not pushing me at all the same way that regular school does.”

Her voice dropped when asked how much she wants to go back to school. “Very badly,” she said. “That’s the main thing I want. I think it would make things a lot better. I think I would just be happier in general, probably.”

Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between. To find out more about Salena and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at


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BiggerAltlurker (@guest_1127788)
1 year ago

And guess who is responsible for the tragic early response of the US to Covid-19. Anyone remember?
Thankfully he is no longer President to continue grotesqually stupid, uninformed, self-serving responses to critical national issues.

Fed Up (@guest_1127812)
Reply to  BiggerAltlurker
1 year ago

So, you are saying there is/was a better response to Covid-19?? Let’s hear what it is???
This virus, in my opinion, was spread ‘on purpose’!

steve (@guest_1127871)
Reply to  BiggerAltlurker
1 year ago

You are incredibly uninformed and full of Monday morning/hindsight judgemental hatred. People like you are part of the problem, who never offer constructive solutions, but continually find fault!

Marilyn Crawford (@guest_1128039)
Reply to  BiggerAltlurker
1 year ago

Fauci is the problem, period. He is on full board with Biden. Trump did not pick him, he already had his covid connection. Blame Gates, Fauci and Birx.

Bether (@guest_1127799)
1 year ago

Interesting point, however, Biden is our President why hasn’t he changed things

Donald Miller (@guest_1128042)
Reply to  Bether
1 year ago

Bether ,
But , the for sale guy has done something. Haven’t you noticed ? Three weeks in office and the virus cases has dropped by half. Another three or four weeks and the virus will be gone completely !
Just as I expected last Oct.

Nancy woods (@guest_1133531)
Reply to  Bether
1 year ago

Biden don’t know what to do promised billions of vaccine for all of us in 100 days then when they got him in he throwed up his hands and don’t know how to do what he promised plus he put all those oil workers out of jobs he is breaking America little by little

Tom H. (@guest_1128099)
1 year ago

Joe has done as much for the virus as he did for the Pipeline. 1500 people out of work. Pennsylvania, good for the coal miners too that voted for him.
Fossil fuel will take care of all of this, Don’t worry we just don’t know what year.
If you are a Joe Bird You have your head too close to your tail feathers.

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I’m surprised it’s dragged out this far. I thought that within a week or so of Biden’s inauguration it would magically disappear and Biden would pronounce the epidemic over.

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