An exercise promoting teenage responsibility Tuesday at Portal Middle/High School made it clear how easily fun can turn tragic after law enforcement officers broke up a "party."
It wasn't a real party, but as the "Teen Maze" project unfolded, the scenarios the Portal 10th graders drew were amazingly realistic.
Some were jailed - for underage drinking, drug abuse, DUI. Others were directed elsewhere in the "maze," which was constructed in the school's gym.
Some scenarios had students contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Others became pregnant, or their girlfriends became pregnant. Some made wise choices and graduated. Some even died.
The project is funded through a grant to reduce alcohol abuse obtained by the Bulloch County Commission of Health and Human Services, said Joey Fennell, who runs Kingdom Builders and was one of 70 volunteers involved in the project.
The maze will be set up at Statesboro High today and at Southeast Bulloch on Thursday. Students from Bulloch Academy and Trinity Christian came to Portal on Tuesday.
Props for each scenario were vividly realistic: a coffin with a mirror inside, a parenting center where babies needed feeding and diapering, and a jail (made of a chain link kennel.)
Some students were forced to write their own eulogies; to undergo treatment for substance abuse; to visit a hospital where they suffered injury due to a drunk driving accident or were treated for syphilis or AIDS. Others scrubbed the gym floor as part of community service punishment meted out by Solicitor Joey Cowart and attorney Dan Snipes, who served as judges.
"This is reality based, but gives examples of positive and negative consequences," Fennell said. "It's not all negative, and is education-based."
As he spoke, a horn sounded and cheers rose up in the gymnasium as a student who "made good choices graduated from high school," in acting out the scenario he had drawn.
"So, if something happens to a kid they're educated about it," Fennell said. "If their scenario takes them through a traffic accident caused by drunk driving, they learn that that is a consequence f drinking and driving. If they must undergo substance abuse counseling because their scenario has them jailed for smoking a joint, they learn from it. Also, if their scenario has them succeeding in abstaining from underage drinking, drug abuse and premarital sex, then they graduate, they also learn the happiness of good choices," he said.
The event is part of Project Success, an education-based program within schools, he said.
Catherine Hendrix, director of the Bulloch County Commission on Health and Human Resources, said students were really enjoying the exercise.
"There were those who wanted to come back and do it again and get different scenarios," she said.
The idea for the project grew from a similar exercise she had seen, but wanted to expand upon, she said.
"It's good for everybody to do," said Portal sophomore Skyler Fields, 16. "We all need to know how to deal with things." Her scenario unfolded with her having unprotected sex after the party, contracting a sexually transmitted disease, then overdosing on drugs.
Abbie Hooks also enjoyed the project.
Her scenario: "I decided not to smoke weed, drink, and I made all the choices I would make in real life," she said. She ended up graduating high school. "I think it was really neat," she said about the Teen Maze. "I wish I could have gone again through different scenarios."
The different stations showed students different consequences. At one station, Cowart lectured a young man on the dangers of doing drugs before "sentencing" him to community service. "Did you enjoy the jail?" He asked. "It's not a pleasant experience, is it?" The young man to whom he spoke shook his head no.
But in other places, there was a career center where students who made good choices were finding jobs.
"The students seem to be enjoying themselves," said Emily Austin, coordinator with Community Mobilization for Change on Alcohol. "They see how it feels to have real cops, judges, and all."
She especially found it interesting to see young men whose scenarios had their girlfriends become pregnant. They had to carry 40-pound bags of sand around their middles, she said.
Dustyn Burdette's scenario was pretty grim. The 16-year-old Portal student's luck of the draw had her getting drunk with her boyfriend, who raped her. She went to counseling, but after a night at the movies, she was in a severe accident caused by a drunk driver. More counseling, crutches and a neck brace later, she returned to school to find out her friend with which she had gone to the movies died from the wreck.
"It actually hits you hard," she said. "Things like this have actually happened. It really opens your eyes."
Mitchell Duckworth, another 16-year-old Portal student, said his scenario was eye-opening as well.
"I was arrested, sent to probation, had 30 hours of community service," he said. But he failed to complete drug rehabilitation, his probation was revoked, and he did not get a scholarship he had hoped for due to a DUI.
If it were real, "I would feel really bad seeing I could have done so much better," he said. "This has been really effective, and (if the chance came in real life," I probably would not drink."
Bulloch County EMS, East Georgia Regional Medical Center, Bulloch County Sheriff's deputies, Statesboro Police and more volunteers worked to help make Teen Maze happen, Hendrix said.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.