For many Tift County ninth graders, life is about to change drastically. Some will be locked up for underage drinking, some will learn that they are pregnant, while others will face the stigma of a sexually transmitted disease. Some will even die following complications from syphilis and HIV. A few will manage to navigate the Tift County Teen Maze successfully, graduating high school and moving on to a bright future.
The sixth annual Tift County Teen Maze is a project of the Tift County Commission on Children & Youth. Throughout the day on Oct. 23 and 24, students at the Northeast Campus of Tift County High School will have an opportunity to go through the maze, facing the consequences of their dating “choices,” which are selected randomly for each student. Some will avoid the pitfalls of alcohol and sexual activity, traveling straight through the maze to a graduation celebration. For the rest, serious consequences lead to detours and dead ends.
For instance, students who “choose” to drink will be sent to a holding cell, fingerprinted and hauled in front of a judge for sentencing. The choice of sexual activity could lead to pregnancy and childbirth, requiring the need to detour into decisions about child care, adoption, child support and career choices. For others, “sexual activity” will lead to an STD, a need for medical and psychological services, and possibly death. Traveling the maze students will view photographic displays of STD victims, wear glasses that simulate drunkenness, wear empathy bellies to experience pregnancy, and participate in other activities designed to increase awareness of potential consequences.
“Most ninth graders live in the moment and do not consider the consequences of their actions,” said Lillie McEntyre, TCCCY executive director. “The Tift County Teen Maze is designed to realistically demonstrate the probable results of poor decision-making. (It) has positively impacted students in many communities including students of Tift County for the last five years that we have held the Teen Maze."
The feedback from the student surveys show that the Teen Maze does have an impact on the way students view these life changing decisions.
“Exposure to this information will help teens make safer choices when faced with risky situations,” said Gina Cox, director of Student Services for Tift County Schools. “The purpose of the maze is to show teens that the decisions they make now have long-lasting, far-reaching effects on their lives and the lives of people around them.”
At the conclusion of the maze, each student will complete an evaluation and have an exit interview with the opportunity for counseling with school system personnel. Each student will also keep a journal detailing their trip through the maze, including mug shots, pregnancy pictures and graduation photos taken along the way.
Many local agencies and organizations have provided personnel, supplies and materials in order to create a successful Teen Maze. Medical, mental health and social service professionals will be on hand to discuss any questions the students may have. Law enforcement and judicial representatives will bring a real-life feel to the arrest and sentencing.
In addition to TCCCY, primary sponsors for the Tift County Teen Maze are the Tift Regional Medical Center, Walmart, Irwin EMC Foundation Inc. and Tift County Council on Child Abuse.
The Tift County Commission on Children & Youth is a nonprofit agency and is the Family Connection site for Tift County. For more information about TCCCY or the Teen Maze, call 388-1000.