One sophomore from Dalton High School found himself handcuffed and in the juvenile court system the morning of September 27, while another from Morris Innovative High School had the privilege of walking across a graduation stage. Thankfully, the jail cell and diploma were part of a simulation experience provided by the week-long Teen Maze program, in its fifth year.
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 entertaining a higher pressured social life in their sophomore year.
Saira Laruy, Dalton Public School pre-K coordinator and long-time Teen Maze volunteer, worked the graduation portion of the maze this year for the first time. "The amount of students actually excited about this part and commenting 'only two more years until this is real!' was great to see because it let us know that they are conscientious of what this life achievement means," she said. "We can tell our students what choices to make, but until they see it for themselves, they feel invincible. I think this experience allows them to see an actual interpretation of the consequences."
Before the simulations began, Motivational Speaker, Author and Life Coach Chris Sandy chronicled the consequences he faced and still faces today, of a choice he made 16 years ago that resulted in a fatal car accident. The students then make their way outside to witness a fatal car crash simulation with their own eyes, with drama students from each school portraying a drunk driver, worried and panicked friends and a grieving mother. Local sheriffs, firefighters and paramedics rush to the scene, as well, to complete the picture.
Then, as students work their way through the various situations, they hear more testimonies from people who lived through their consequences. Some students' "fate" takes them to the emergency room, others the funeral home, and the rest: charged with a DUI and the ramifications of the juvenile justice system.
Laruy said she was anxious to see which life choices her son, Ryan, would go through now that he is a sophomore. "As a parent, I find this event very important for our community," she said. "Ryan assumed he would be going through the graduation portion of the maze, but I had to tell him that it depended on what choices he made before he reached that part."
For sophomore Ryan Laruy, the event did have an impact. "I learned not to be out past curfew and not to laugh when a judge is talking to you," he said. "But really, it got me to consider the people who care about me before I make a decision. My choices don't only affect me, but they affect the people I care about, too, and I have to think about that long term."
The event is made possible by Whitfield Family Connection, many sponsors and a building full of dedicated volunteers.