On Wednesday morning, sophomores from Dalton High School and Morris Innovative High School stood by the scene of a drunk driving accident at the Dalton Fairgrounds. Drama students portrayed a drunk driver, victims of the crash, worried and panicked friends and a grieving mother. Local sheriffs, firefighters and paramedics rush to the scene, as well, to complete the picture. Fortunately, this accident was only a simulation part of the seventh annual Teen Maze event.
Through Teen Maze, sophomore students in the area spend the day experiencing the consequences of various choices they will face during their adolescence first-hand, such as drinking and driving, teen pregnancy, dating violence or substance abuse. These lessons come at a crucial time as students begin driving and experiencing a higher pressured social life in their sophomore year.
Before students began making their way through the various simulations, they heard from guest speakers Chris Sandy and Eric Krug. Both Chris and Eric were involved in drunk driving accidents during their adolescence. These separate accidents left Sandy serving time in jail, and Krug with a traumatic brain injury and additional life-altering injuries.
"You don't have to be a bad person to get caught up in a bad moment," Sandy told the group. "Every one of us can be easily distracted in life and it can cause you do dumb things. I know it's hard to look to the future right now, but I want each of you to know there's a huge future ahead of you."
Krug, who now uses an iPad to communicate, told the students that it only takes one second for a bad decision to impact the rest of their lives.
"The night of my accident was supposed to be fun, but it turned out to be a nightmare," Krug said. "Suffering from a traumatic brain injury has ruined all of my dreams. I wish life was different, but it is not. I know life could be harder, so I'm determined to make the best of it. Always remember to make good choices."
After hearing from the guest speakers, students were split up into groups. Depending on the choices they were randomly assigned, students split up into different paths. While a few students were able to graduate without issues, others faced realities of teen pregnancy, drug addiction, jail and more.
In each situation they are able to hear from experts and others who lived through the choices being demonstrated.
Alex Hutt, school counselor at Brookwood Elementary, was stationed in the teen pregnancy simulation. There, both male and female students learned the physical, emotional and financial consequences of teen pregnancy while wearing a simulated pregnancy belly.
"I think this is really important, especially for kids at this age," Hutt said. "Sometimes they have a hard time seeing the bigger picture, looking into the future and understanding that the decisions they make now really impact what will happen to them later on. This gives them a little bit of an understanding that the choices they make right now can lead to a chain reaction and later on they could end up in a situation they probably didn't want."
Ashley Aguilar, sophomore at Dalton High School, said she thought Teen Maze was a good thing for students to experience. While she ended up going straight to graduation, she liked that there was the option to experience different choices.
"You get to go through different simulations, and you get to experience how things would turn out for you," Aguilar said.
The event is made possible by Whitfield Family Connection, many sponsors and a building full of dedicated volunteers. For more information on Teen Maze, visit http://teenmazedmw.wixsite.com/teen-maze, and for more information on speaker Chris Sandy, visit http://chrissandy.com