Teens Learn Hard Reality of Their Choices at Polk Teen Maze EventPrint This Post
By Jeremy Stewart
There is a party at a friend’s house this weekend. Their parents will be there, so what can happen, right?
This is the beginning of a scenario played out at the recent Polk Teen Maze event where 10th and 11th graders from Cedartown and Rockmart high schools learned how their decisions can have dire and life-changing consequences.
The program, a project of Polk Family Connection, which is sponsored by Georgia Family Connection, brings together local organizations and community leaders to help drive home the seriousness of the students’ actions and how they affect themselves and their loved ones.
Held at Camp Antioch, students went through the experience Nov. 9 and 10 with the help of over 100 volunteers after a three-year absence because of Covid restrictions.
Rhonda Heuer, Executive Director of Polk Family Connection, said there were a few adjustments once the first groups of students went through, but by the end they had learned how to best convey their message.
“It was great for everybody coming back together again as we’ve really missed it. And all of our partners being able to be together and work and really show the youth of Polk County that we’re behind them, and that we really have an investment in their lives,” Heuer said.
The purpose of Polk Teen Maze is to expose students to various life events that challenge them to make difficult decisions that will impact their lives through scenarios dealing with alcohol, drugs, pregnancy, and distracted driving.
Students are shown through the events of a night where one student’s choice to drink leads to a fatal car crash, an encounter with police, a courtroom, and a funeral. They then enter the maze, where each is provided a script to follow and come across certain experiences such as dating, getting pregnant, and finishing school to get a career.
“We’re taking a lot of notes and we’re going to do a volunteer survey afterwards to kind of collect all those newer ideas,” Heuer said. “Things have changed in three years. Different issues come up and we add stations so that we can really have the team address it.”
Polk County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jonathan Blackmon escorted students through a re-creation of a fatal car crash and then into a mock emergency room with Polk Medical Center nurse Sharon Hogue where one of the victims of the wreck dies as his mother lashes out at the driver.
“I know this looks staged,” she tells the group. “But this is something that happens in real life. I have to tell family members every day that they are not taking their children home.”
Local law enforcement agencies, Polk School District counselors, health department staff, AdventHealth Redmond EMTs, and Department of Juvenile Justice staff all volunteered their time for the program.
“It’s people that really do this every day working in the stations. So it’s very realistic because it’s what would actually happen if they made that decision,” Heuer said. “It’s just amazing to really bring Polk County folks together. A lot of parents and just community volunteers that heard about it or they had their teen or somebody go through it before.
Students were also able to drive a golf cart through a course while wearing “drunk goggles” that impaired their vision and also get demonstrations from PSD police K-9 officers.
Heuer said that they had normally just presented the program to local ninth-grade students, but since it was not able to be done the last two years they decided to have 10th- and 11th-grade students come this year. That led to a decision to hold the program for 10th-grade students next year after they saw how some of the older students responded to the maze this time around.
“Because they’re closer to driving age, and a lot of this is more reality for them than ninth graders. With ninth graders we’re kind of projecting to them when they’re older. But now this is where (10th graders) are,” Heuer said.
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