Spin the wheel, win a prize. Except in this case the “prize” could be gonorrhea, or AIDS.
That’s part of the concept behind the teen maze: you don’t know what consequences your actions will have, but the point of the program is to show what the consequences can be for teenagers who have sex, do drugs or make bad decisions like drinking and driving.
The maze, setup in the Callaway Conference Center at West Georgia Technical College, allows students to choose 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. With a mock emergency room, court and funeral set up, students get to see where some of their drug-related choices may send them.
At sexual encounters, students draw a piece of paper that gives them what “choice” they made - whether to have sex and whether to use protection. The decision will send them to another unit, like the STD wheel or pregnancy area, to see the consequences.
Students may be faced with real photos of sexually transmitted diseases, or have to wear a pregnancy belly filled with rice. For students that make good decisions – by luck of the draw – they ultimately end up at graduation, complete with a ceremony. Students who didn’t make the right life choices are faced with possible outcomes like child rearing, death or jail.
Those aren’t exaggerations, but a wake-up call for the students who go through the maze to see what some of their peers may already have faced. According to District 4 Public Health, in 2011, the rate of teen pregnancies for girls 15-17 in Troup County per 1,000 was 34.8 percent, while teen births for ages 15 to 19 per 1,000 had a rate of 54.1 percent and STDs for the same age group was a rate of 44.2 percent, all much higher than the state averages.
“We just got a phone call from someone freaking out because their child is interested in sex at 13,” said Jane Gannon with the Troup County Health Department, who has organized the maze the past several years. “There’s a whole group of new people each year” to experience the maze.
New this year are a domestic violence area and a new wreck scene designed by police Lt. Del Armstrong to highlight the consequences of drinking and driving, said Jan Edwards, administrative manager of the Troup County Health Department. Teens also get to try a course where they put on impairment goggles and drive a golf cart to simulate driving under the influence.
Gannon said the maze is a huge collaboration of local organizations. It is funded through grants from United Way, the city of LaGrange, Walmart Distribution Center and Junior Service League. Also, it receives assistance with volunteer placement from Junior Service League, and Walmart Distribution volunteered employees to work on the project.
A preview night for parents to see the maze is Tuesday and begins at 5 p.m. at Callaway Conference Center. The teen maze will host students from local high schools on Wednesday and Oct. 31.