After nearly a year of planning, Dawson County Family Connection in partnership with its Substance Abuse Task Force members successfully held the Dawson County Teen Maze for ninth graders at Dawson County Junior High School March 8.
The purpose of the maze was to challenge the students to graduate and obtain a career without being blocked by obstacles in life such as alcohol, substance abuse and probation.
Students were given a packet of information including one of 17 different scenarios that outlined their journey through the maze.
“The scenarios will drive their direction while they’re in the maze so they don’t get to make any decisions,” Family Connection Coordinator Nancy Stites said. “The decision’s already made for them so they can see consequences of negative decisions.”
Students were tasked with reporting to the booths set up by local agencies outlined in their packets. There they learned about the consequences of certain actions.
At the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office booth, students learned about the effects of alcohol and substance abuse by testing out goggles that simulate being under the influence.
“We use the goggles to show them this is how it will make you feel,” Lt. Chris Murphy said. “You can take the goggles off and you’ll be fine, but that one decision impacts your life.”
While students were having fun testing their reflexes and depth perception with the goggles, other students were facing harsher realities to their scenarios such as probation and sentencing before a judge.
Dawson County Magistrate Judges Charlie Fulcher and Anthony Tarnacki volunteered at the maze to show teenagers what it’s like to come before a judge right after being arrested, as well as what it’s like to be convicted of a crime.
“We kind of give them an example of what a sentence would look like, what the process would look like going in front of the judge,” Fulcher said. “We’re really helping them realize what their rights are and what they’re giving up as a result of wrong decisions.”
In some of the students’ scenarios, their journey took them to the funeral home booth, where James Bearden of Bearden Funeral Home was ready to help students write mock eulogies and obituaries. Students also had the choice to step up to a casket and view their own faces reflected in a mirror on the pillow.
“I have seen some reactions that I feel like opens their eyes to the consequences of decisions that they could be making and that’s the whole hope here, is to make them think about those ahead of time,” Bearden said. “There’s consequences to every choice that you make and this is sure not one of the consequences that you ever want to see, us especially.”
On the lighter side, students also saw the outcomes of positive decisions as they got dressed up for graduation, prepared for technical or four-year college and the end goal of entering the workforce.
“What has been fun is how many kids have been excited about graduation,” Chamber of Commerce President Christie Moore said as she manned the graduation booth. “It’s been very positive and I think it’s helped them think ‘okay I’m in ninth grade, what’s next?’”
After completing their scenario, students had the option to wander around the maze, visit other booths and obtain more information.
Representatives from Lanier Technical College, the University of North Georgia, the Goodwill Career Center, Dawson County Emergency Services, Blue Ridge Counseling, Avita Community Partners, Next Generation Club House, Rape Response Inc., Young Life, Dawson County Sheriff’s Office, Department of Juvenile Justice and Bearden Funeral Home were on site to answer questions and provide information on career paths, coping mechanisms for depression and anxiety and tips to recognize substance abuse and suicidal tendencies in peers and how to seek help.
“I just want them to get as much information as they can,” Stites said. “It’s a chance for students to meet the organizations in the community that they usually don’t have a chance to and if they ever want something or need something they’re going to feel comfortable – they’ve met the person, they’ve seen their face – and they’ll know how counseling might work so it takes away the unknown.”