Teens Learn To Navigate Maze Of Life

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Last week, Cameron Willsey held a crying baby in his arms, Trini Stackhouse graduated high school and Ashley Flynn wrote her own eulogy.

The three eighth-graders were part of a group of middle school students, who, with parental permission, negotiated a life choices game called "The Teen Maze."

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Eighth-graders Ashley Flynn, Shawnee Murray and Trini Stackhouse look at themselves in a mirror inside a coffin during an exercise designed to teach them about the consequences of bad decisions.

The maze aims to help teens understand the consequences of premarital sex.

With pretend money in their pockets, teens entered the maze.

A romantic date with a longtime partner was the first obstacle they met in the maze.

"The challenge is to graduate without getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD), becoming pregnant or getting your girlfriend pregnant," a volunteer told each group at the entrance.

At the first booth each teen was told, "I love you so much. I have never felt this way about anyone else before. Let me show you how much I love you."

They had to draw their answers out of a bag.

Every "no" was congratulated by the volunteer as a good decision. Those people went on to their second date.

Those who said "yes" were not so lucky.

Some faced pregnancy.

Others spun the "Wheel of Misfortune" to find out which STD they had contracted from their partners.

For instance: "You feel like you have the flu and by the time you find out it is syphilis, your heart and brain are damaged. You lose your job due to health problems and must declare bankruptcy. You die two years after diagnosis."

Teens with STDs visited the "hospital," had an appointment with the undertaker or went on to their second date.

At the second date station, teens stacked blocks labeled "fidelity," "compassion," "reliability," "friendship," "love" and "sex" in the order of importance to them.

However, the "sex" block was triangular while the rest were rectangles to illustrate a point: Relationships based on sex topple.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the maze, teens dealt with the consequences of pregnancy.

Teens were able to hold medical models of babies in different trimesters. They were able to try on weighted, shaped garments complete with full womb.

A female in her second trimester might draw this card: "You are a junior in high school, five-and-a-half months pregnant with complications that leave you bedridden. You have to drop out of school and cannot graduate with your friends."

Taylor Thomas drew this card: "Wow! You are having a baby with the love of your life but she is selling herself for meth. Now what?"

"The baby cries all the time," said Taylor Thomas after carrying around a simulation baby for a while. "I'm not going to do drugs. I can't do laundry, carry a backpack and take care of a baby."

The majority of teens were able to enter the line where they rolled the dice to find out if they would graduate.

Each one who graduated was given a diploma, had a photo taken and got to eat a real slice of cake.

The next booth tackled questions of college and careers.

Before teens exited the maze, they were able to chat with an adult volunteer to help them process the experience.

Teen evaluation responses were positive.

Many teens took the time to write comments, rather than simply checking the "I liked it" box.

"I learned something can happen, no matter what," one boy wrote.

"I'm waiting until marriage, because I don't want to get a disease," a girl wrote.

The Teen Maze in Globe was sponsored in part by the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Gila County Board of Supervisors.

Those agencies and Payson's abstinence message-based New Beginnings Pregnancy Center are bringing the Teen Maze to Payson High School on May 10.

Michelle DeRouin, NBPC's director is coordinating the event.

"I am excited about bringing the maze to Payson," she said. "I encourage parents to come out and see what this activity offers, the evening of May 9. Students must bring parent-signed permission slips to school the day of the event."

In addition to volunteers, professionals in the following fields are needed to make the maze a success -- physical and mental health care workers and law enforcement.

Time Out and Dr. Cynthia Booth are already on board with the project.

For more information, call DeRouin's at (928) 978-0164.

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