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CTC continues PAYS data review

At the Oct. 21 Whitehall-Coplay Communities That Care meeting, CTC members continued looking at the Pennsylvania Youth Survey data with input from the student representatives - Whitehall High School seniors Aubrey Vivian and Giovanni Mazzola and WCMS eighth-graders Dayna Nelson, Edrian Lee and Tanner Dogmanits.

Denise Continenza, Penn State Extension educator and CTC coordinator, asked the students to comment on gambling practices. The PAYS data noted a general decrease in gambling. There was a slight increase in online gambling.

Giovanni noted there was an increase in online gambling during the COVID-19 pandemic when the casinos were shut down. This led to more online streamers showing themselves gambling. Giovanni said they made it look fun, which could influence youths watching their channels.

Dayna noted the only real gambling she sees at the middle-school level are small things, such as betting $1 on the outcome of a card game or sporting event. She also agreed with Giovanni that the online streamers made gambling look fun but never covered the risks involved.

Aubrey said she believes the most common type of gambling she sees in her age group is for Fantasy Football.

Continenza also reported the rates of suspension have reduced by half over the past four years. WHS Principal Dr. Peter Mayes reported this is partly due to a changing of attitude toward disciplinary practices in schools. They are focused less on punitive practices, such as giving suspensions, and focused more on understanding and restorative practices. Mayes noted there hasn’t necessarily been a drop in incidents but instead a change in the district’s method of discipline.

There was a lot of discussion about the higher numbers of depression and anxiety reported. A higher number of students reported having low self worth. Aubrey reported COVID-19 was a factor since students were spending a lot of time alone and missed out on social interactions with their peers.

Dayna commented children learn to associate happiness with positive peer interactions, so they found it harder to be happy without those exchanges. She also noted youths at that age need reassurance from their peers, which was hard to get during the pandemic.

Edrian noted they are still adapting. There has been a fear of interacting with people instilled in youths during the past few years, making it hard for the students to make new friendships and meet new people. She said it is harder to make new connections.

Coalition members then discussed the difference in making connections in person versus through their phones or other technology. It was mentioned the connections over technology are more superficial but easier to manage. There is less pressure online.

When Whitehall Township Mayor Michael Harakal Jr. asked why more youths aren’t out and about walking around the neighborhood, Dayna noted there is a guarantee of happiness and entertainment on their phones and social media. That is not a guarantee when leaving your house to go for a walk.

Aubrey mentioned if there were more students out walking in the neighborhood, they would probably still be on their phones.

There was also discussion about how many youths have trouble or anxiety when it comes to interacting face to face with people, especially older people not part of their peer group.

Continenza reminded the coalition since they are wrapping up the analysis of the PAYS data, it is time to look at the group’s priority areas and decide which ones to continue working on. It was noted they should continue working on substance abuse prevention, with perhaps a shift in focus toward newer concerns, such as vaping. It was also mentioned the group should focus on mental health concerns, low commitment toward school and parental permissiveness toward certain behaviors.

The next meeting will be Dec. 9.

PRESS PHOTO BY SAMANTHA ANDERSON Students from the Whitehall-Coplay Middle School Life Skills class cater the Oct. 21 Whitehall-Coplay Communities That Care meeting. The students, via their Zephyr Cafe, will continue catering the monthly meetings in the future.