LYNN S. MANLEY
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
As local author Lynn S. Manley perused the Target in Harmarville this time last year, she watched in amazement as a young girl, perplexed, watched others.
The girl, maybe 4 or 5 years old, kept looking at her mother…and others—the woman walking past, the man looking at greeting cards, the college student with a pillow and bedsheet in hand.
Manley could see that the young girl couldn’t understand why everybody was wearing a mask. Sure, she was old enough to understand that these adults weren’t born with masks, so why was everyone wearing them now?
When Manley returned to her home in Tarentum, she started writing. She started creating her main characters.
Months later, the final product was released. Manley’s third book, “Mama, What Is On Your Face?” is a children’s book, featuring all-Black characters, helping parents to calmly explain to their children the coronavirus pandemic that virtually no living person has ever experienced before.
“I was thinking about how she (the young girl at Target) felt, and how fearful it is for kids” during this time, Manley told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview, March 18.
“We’re fearful as adults, we didn’t know what was going on, either. But the kids were more fearful.”
KAREN RENFRO, of Wilkins Township, shares Lynn S. Manley’s children’s book with her grandchildren, Indigo, Steven and Sage.
When Pittsburgh Public Schools paused all in-class instruction for two weeks last March, parents were left trying to explain to their children why, all of a sudden, they couldn’t enjoy their time with their teachers and playtime with their fellow students. But no one, not even the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, could have predicted that, an entire year later, PPS schools would still be closed due to COVID-19.
Sure, some area school districts have returned to in-person learning in some capacity, and Pittsburgh Public Schools is looking to re-open select schools for some students beginning April 6. But there’s no getting around it—COVID-19 will have a lasting effect on children, primarily mentally, rather than physically.
NBC News examined a wealth of data on child welfare metrics, and in December 2020, reported that:
– Emergency rooms had seen a 24 per cent increase in mental health-related visits from children ages 5 to 11 compared to 2019. The increase among older kids was even higher—31 percent;
– Food banks had been slammed with hungry families as an estimated 17 million children—many largely cut off from free school lunches—were in danger of not having enough to eat. That was an increase of more than six million hungry children compared to before the pandemic;
– Schools were struggling to teach students remotely or in classrooms in which children wear masks and sit behind plastic shields. NBC News said that one national testing organization reported the average student in grades 3-8 who took a math assessment this past fall scored 5 to 10 percentile points behind students who took the same test in 2019, with Black, Hispanic and poor students falling even further behind;
– Classrooms have been unusually empty, with quarantines and sickness affecting attendance in face-to-face schools and computer issues interfering with online instruction. NBC News said some districts reported that the number of students who had missed at least 10 percent of classes, which studies show could lead to devastating lifelong consequences, had more than doubled;
– An estimated three million vulnerable students—who are homeless, in foster care, have disabilities or are learning English — appeared to not be in school at all.
Then, there’s the effect that COVID has had on children and families. Kids have a fondness with their grandparents, especially in the Black community. But many kids had to stay away from their senior-aged grandparents, for fear of possibly bringing COVID near them. That’s precious time between kids and their loved ones that’s been lost.
Unfortunately, there are some kids whose grandparents are no longer here, due to COVID, which brings on an even tougher feeling for kids to overcome. In Allegheny County, 1,735 people had died from coronavirus as of March 18, the vast majority age 65 and over.
PAXTON DUFFEY, 5, with author Lynn S. Manley’s new children’s book, “Mama, What Is On Your Face?”
“Nobody has gotten hit with the mental health side of the pandemic worse than kids,” said Paul Gionfriddo, the president and CEO of Mental Health America, an organization that supports people with mental illness, in the NBC News report. “This is an ongoing traumatic event that kids have faced without the perspective of, say, 65-year-olds, who have lived through other kinds of trauma in their lives and have some perspective.”
Manley, who spent 25 years as a nanny and now works at the The Leo Academy for Early Education, in Blawnox, said that kids in her neighborhood expressed that masks were “scary.” A boy told her that he felt something bad was happening, like, “aliens.” A girl told Manley that she’s only seen people with masks “in the hospital, who were very sick.”
Manley hopes her book, “Mama, What Is On Your Face?” will calm kids’ fears and worries about coronavirus and masks, in terms they can understand. The book is 34 pages, and is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Manley’s website, www.provoke2change2inspired.com.
“I just wanted to have a fun way of showing them (children) and give them some understanding that everyone has to wear a mask for their protection,” Manley told the Courier. “Even when or if we don’t have to use the mask anymore, it’s definitely going to be part of our history.”