Teen Maze Makes a Difference

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Students from Murray County Schools listen as Dalton Police Department Chaplain Raymond McCranie reads a mock eulogy for a student killed in a car crash during the Teen Maze event on Tuesday. Photo by Matt Hamilton/Daily Citizen-News

by Shaka Cobb

Much has changed through the years, but one thing that remains the same is that teenagers too often think they are invincible.

They sometimes believe that nothing bad could ever happen to them. This false feeling of invincibility leads some teens to choose to ignore the cautions they receive from teachers, parents, and law enforcement about the deadly consequences of experimenting with risky behaviors such as drugs, texting while driving, sexual behaviors and drinking.

It’s as if they think that bad things always happen to the other person, but never to themselves.

Last week, the Dalton/Whitfield and Murray Family Connections, in partnership with Dalton Public Schools, Murray County Schools and Whitfield County Schools, endeavored to show approximately 2,000 high school sophomores the realities and possible consequences of choosing to indulge in risky practices. The danger of reckless behaviors was brought home in a dramatic and emotionally stirring way as the young people participated in a live action drama called Teen Maze. Students engaged in scenarios to illustrate the consequences of the poor choices they could make as they encounter various situations every day in their lives.

Teen Maze is a realistic, educational, creative and safe way to experience the hardships of making the wrong choices and the joy of making the right choices when faced with difficult decisions. In these scenarios, students do not get to choose their circumstances. Their experiences are randomly assigned. Some will enjoy smooth sailing as they go through their make-believe life. They won’t encounter the hardships that others in their class may face.

At this past week’s Maze, some students were involved in a car wreck caused by driving while intoxicated. Others were presented with a teen pregnancy because of making the wrong decision about sexual involvement. Some students committed various degrees of crime that led them to incarceration or other legal problems. Whatever their challenge, they had to accept the consequences of their choices. The ultimate goal for each of these teens was for them to navigate through the maze of life and end their high school career with a diploma. The entire experience was designed to show teens that they will face difficulties in life and that the choices they make can change the entire direction of their future. Throughout the event these scenarios helped students learn the importance of accepting personal responsibility and the consequences of poor choices.

This event could not have taken place without approximately 200 adult volunteers each day. Firemen, policemen, hospital personnel, counselors, social workers and other community members, who care about making a difference in the lives of our youth, worked tirelessly with smiles on their faces for five days. I have seen some of the same faithful volunteers for each of the five years that this event has been held in Whitfield County.

We may never know how many young people were saved from making dangerous decisions because of what they learned at Teen Maze. If only one is prevented from going down the wrong path, I’m sure every one of the volunteers would say all of their hard work was worth it.

“The maze is designed as an interactive ‘Game of Life’ where students see the consequences of life choices in a hands-on, realistic and educational way,” said Carlene Mutter, coordinator of Dalton/Whitfield County Family Connection, one of the organizations that presents the annual event. “The goal of the program is to increase their understanding of personal responsibility and the importance of making positive life choices.”

This week through today, more than 2,100 sophomores from Dalton, Whitfield and Murray county schools are expected to take part in the event at the North Georgia Fairgrounds. The maze shows scenarios and related consequences such as underage drinking, driving under the influence, texting and driving, and teen pregnancy.


North Murray High School sophomores draw various life choices at random during the Teen Maze event at the North Georgia Fairgrounds. Photos by Matt Hamilton/Daily Citizen-News

Sandra Ridley played Cudd’s mother. She volunteers for Teen Maze to give important messages to young people.

“If you can plant this seed in kids at this age and save a few from bad choices, then as a community member you’re ensuring the future of our community and that’s a good thing,” Ridley said.

Amber Biggs is a participant in the Conasauga Drug Court program. She told students her life started going downhill once she began using meth and got arrested.

“This is my mugshot on the right and the picture on the left is me recently on vacation,” she said pointing to the wall.

Biggs, 25, said she sat in jail six months on a possession of meth charge.

“That’s when I took a real hard look at myself and what I really want for my life,” she said.

This is her second year participating in Teen Maze. She called it a “freeing feeling” to help others make better choices.

Mutter said Teen Maze wouldn’t be successful without volunteers and community members.

“I want to thank our community, the school systems, first responders and hospitals,” she said. “We have around 300 volunteers here every day and we couldn’t do it without them.”

Mutter said organizers feel like the majority of students think it’s an emotional experience.

“They visualize if that was my mom receiving a call or my brother, sister or best friend that dies,” she said. “It becomes very personal getting in the zone without having to suffer the real consequences.”

Read the story on daltondailycitizen.com.