Ellijay, Ga. – At the Lion’s Club Fairgrounds, the High School’s annual Teen Maze saw students traversing their mock future through both good and bad decisions by random chance.
Spreading the thoughts across the students, they flip cards and take chance spins of wheels to see how one bad decision spirals into catastrophe for their lives. Though some make it to “graduation,” many fall short as their mock decisions lead to probation, early parenthood, STDs, Jail, or even death.
The event continues to grow over recent years, though it still retains much of the highlights from the past including the ever popular, yet all too realistic, crash involving a drunk teen. The crash kills one and sends two into critical condition, with a third still needing hospitalization. It seems the only one to make it through the wreck without major injury is the drunk teen himself. As the mother of one of the critical students screams at him for what he’s done, she yells out that he should be the one on the ground. Through the continued abuse, emergency responders try to redirect her into an ambulance as the teen is led to the back seat of a police car, and inevitably on to a string of events that many of the students themselves will soon walk through in the maze.
The wreck includes critical care life-flight, firefighters, police, and actual response procedures for the student’s injuries. Around a hundred students watch from each group through the day as the sheet is pulled over the one dead, and the others are placed in neck restraints and emergency response wades through the blood and carnage.
Past the grisly scene, the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office put the students themselves behind the wheel as they attempt to navigate a small driving course in a golf cart while wearing “drunk goggles” to simulate the disorientation. One of the newer additions to the maze, the response to this course went so far as to ask for another course requiring the students to write a text while driving, catering to both the rising concern over texting and driving and Georgia’s new law against it. Having begun the project this year, it is a continuing part of the overall project.
These are the kinds of comments and suggestions that Director Merle Naylor, of Gilmer Family Connections, asks for each year from those involved. Naylor confirmed this year saw 325 students attend the event throughout the day hosted by over 125 different volunteers dedicating time to the event. Most were all day volunteers.
A great chunk of the volunteers, this year saw 47 senior nursing students come from Chattahoochee Technical College, according to Naylor. Some of these volunteers man the hospital zone where Gilmer Students look closer at a medical dummy simulating many of the injuries they saw in the crash outside.
Even with the volunteers and Lion’s Club members aiding in set up, the process begins for Naylor months in advance as she begins writing scripts and conceptualizing the program. Finally, the Friday before the event, she and other Lion’s club members set up everything for the event and spend the next three days decorating and preparing the zones with their displays and the needed supplies.
Over 30 stations are constructed, not including the outside zones like the party scene, the wreck, and the drunk driving course, for the one-day event.
It has become so large that Naylor voices concerns over the size and how she can fit everything in every year. Added stations and courses require more time for students to navigate the entire day, and some don’t even make it through the whole maze before their allotted time is completed. Add in unexpected events and a slight delay in arrival could mean cutting half the program for a group.
On top of that Naylor says one of her biggest desires would be to allow students to navigate the maze a second time to see things or experience stations they may have missed the first time.
As the program’s popularity continues to rise, those involved have been spreading the message, too. Naylor confirms that Pickens County School System has been observing the program over the last few years and are even considering hosting their own day next spring.