‘It’s like a reality check to them’

Asia Ashley Staff Writer

November 2, 2013

The decisions you make early in life could be a matter of life or death. Local students learned that this week during the third annual Troup County Teen Maze event.

“The maze shows them that there’s more than one path to graduation, said Jan Edwards, administrative manager for the Troup County Health Department. “Even if you have obstacles, you can still reach graduation. It shows a lot of real life things that teens may go through.”

The maze, setup in the Callaway Conference Center at West Georgia Technical College, allows students to randomly select a scenario from a bucket, which will direct them to their path through various life choices and consequences including pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, underage drinking, drug use, going through the judicial system with possible jail time, or even death.

When students first arrive to the Maze, they walk into a “party scene,” where some of the students hypothetically consume alcohol. From there, they are escorted to a wreck demonstration, where one person had died, one person seriously injured and another was arrested and taken to jail for DUI. The driver of the vehicle was also texting while driving, a new concept added to the wreck scene this year.

“She texted and had a drink before going to school, but now not one of them is going to make it to school,” Lt. Del Armstrong explained to the students as the bloodied bodies lay on the ground. “A wreck can happen in just a second.”

Someone texting while driving is 23 times more likely to become involved in a car wreck, than someone who is not, Armstrong said, and adding alcohol to the equation could be worse. He explained that though the the teenage driver was not stumbling and did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol, she will still be charged with DUI if any alcohol is detected in her system as it is against the law for anyone under the age of 21 to consume alcohol.

“Wrecks affect everyone, now all the people may not be able to do what they had planned to do,” said Armstrong as LaGrange Fire and Emergency Medical Service personnel tended to the crash victims. “And the driver is charged with vehicular homicide, serious injury by vehicle and DUI, and faces 30-40 years in prison. She’s only 17 years old, but she has hurt all these people.”

Some students were allowed to maneuver through traffic cones on a golf cart while texting and driving and wear vision impairment goggles, and most found it hard to avoid hitting the cones that represented people.

Students were directed to either jail for DUI, the emergency room for injuries or to the funeral as a result of the crash

“Going to the emergency room was eye opening,” said Callaway High School student Austin Wilson. “Seeing how people look after they have a wreck and to see what they have to go through was bad. It taught me to always drive safe.”

For those that “died” in the crash, they were directed to their funeral where they filled out their eulogy form indicating the names of their relatives left behind, best friend, what they will miss, what they wanted to do and be, and what they wanted to be remembered for. The eulogy was read by a minister as the student reflected on themselves in a mirror displayed on the casket.

“A lot of them couldn’t even look in the mirror,” said Doodle Eubanks, who has volunteered for Teen Maze for three years. “I’ve seen a couple of them tear up during it.”

Others were taken to jail after being charged with DUI or drug use where they went through the booking process of the jail.

After experiencing the aftermath of a car wreck, the students continued through teen dating scenarios in the maze.

Some chose to not give into peer pressure and be abstinent, while some had sexual encounters on a date, resulting in a STD or pregnancy.

Callaway High student Kira Towns’ Maze experience entailed her becoming pregnant and catching an STD after unprotected sex. She spun the “STD wheel” to find out what disease she had.

“I had AIDS and knew I was going to die and it was scary,” she said. “Just practicing abstinence for real is what I learned.”

Those who practiced abstinence and used preventative measures made it to graduation without any set backs.

Those who were engaged in sex were directed to “drug stores” and “clinics” to be shown preventative measures or receive treatment for a STD.

“I (hypothetically) had unsafe sex and got herpes,” said LaGrange High student Jalen Wilson. “I went to the clinic to get it treated but she said I have to stick with it my whole life. It was bad because it couldn’t be treated.”

Those who were pregnant walked through the trimesters of pregnancy, males and females, with weighted bean bags in the stomach of their aprons. They were then directed to a nursing station where they learned information from Department of Families and Child Services and the financial costs and responsibilities of raising a baby.

“Seeing someone have twins seemed like a lot,” said Dock Standford of LHS, who happened to make it through to graduation STD and baby-free.

After the maze has been completed by the student, students go to a “counseling center” where they receive information about college; non-graduates received information about GED programs and job searching.

“Graduation was the best part,” said CHS’s Alexis Greene, who went through the maze twice. She had a baby her second go around which prevented her from graduating. “Going through the money situation and not being able to finish school felt bad.”

Through the many lessons to be learned during Teen Maze, it could not have been done without the over 300 volunteers.

“It was great this year,” said Jane Gannon Simms, coordinator of the event. “Without the help of the volunteers it wouldn’t be a success like it is.”

The visual impact of the maze helps the student better understand what they learn from textbooks.

“It’s like a reality check to them,” said Simms. “Until they see it and get hands on experience for example carrying the weight of the baby then they don’t understand- Don’t participate in risky behaviors until you are ready to become a parent.”

Teen Maze is sponsored by United Way, the city of LaGrange, Walmart Distribution Center and Junior Service League. It will continue to be an annual event for ninth grade students to attend.