Late Saturday morning, 23-year-old Megan Smith woke up with an orange dragon tattooed on her neck and no recollection of how it got there.
Smith had attended a party the night before where large amounts of drugs and alcohol were consumed. She made a decision while under the influence of alcohol, one that will affect her the rest of her life.
Although Smith is not a real person, and the story described did not actually happen, it is an example of a simulated situation that is part of a board game offered to Dawson County students.
Developed about two years ago by Dawson County Sheriff’s Lt. Tony Wooten, the “It’s Party Time and It’s NO Game” is an alternative way of teaching students about the potential real-life effects of drug and alcohol use and abuse.
“It is a curriculum presented in the format of a board game,” Wooten said.
“Geared toward students in grades 6-9, the game gives [students] a glimpse into the life of living with an addiction.
“I wanted to provide something the students could learn from, but also have fun at the same time, something other than just presenting a lecture or teaching a lesson in the classroom.”
Inspired by real-life events that Wooten and other law enforcement personnel have encountered, the game encompasses the financial, social and health aspects of living with an addiction.
Students learn how the choices they make can potentially have permanent effects on their lives.
“Like the situation of the girl not remembering getting a tattoo on her neck and not liking the decision she made to get the tattoo, students learn that there is a possibility of making poor choices when you drink too much or are under the influence of drugs,” Wooten said.
Mark Merges, principal of Dawson County Middle School, sat in on a session with eighth-graders and was impressed with Wooten’s development.
“It is a real world game with practical uses,” Merges said. “All of the students who played were engaged, wanted to be a part of it, and got upset when they had to face consequences or bad things happened.”
Teams of students play the game through simulated months.
Once each “month” is completed, the students and teacher discuss what happened over the course of the month for each group, and how the “lives” of the players were affected due to their addictions.
“The curriculum is presented to students as a game,” Wooten said. “In reality, it is actually a simulator with a variety of scenarios specific to each drug of choice.
“The facilitator will have multiple teachable moments with the class. And because the children are in game mode, they are very open to discuss the issues that their user lifestyle presents. This is the true power of the curriculum.”
Wooten has since come on board with The Passage Group, a global company established 25 years ago that aims to give parents tools to raise drug- and alcohol-free children.
Wooten and the group are working together to make the game available as a curriculum purchase for schools nationwide. They want to get the message out about the potential effects of drugs and alcohol.
“Tony’s idea for the game was like nothing we had ever seen before. We fell in love with this concept,” said Lou Colombo, director of The Passage Group.
“It has opened the lines of communication between students, parents, teachers and schools about a subject than can be difficult to teach and difficult for students to remember and absorb.”
Colombo said presenting the curriculum in the form of a game engages students and encourages discussion with their teachers about life choices.