By Tia Lynn Lecorchick staff writer

Three representatives from the Morgan County 4-H Club, Victoria Cagle, Shannon Cagle, Janet Woodward, spoke to the Morgan County School Board (BOE) to review the results of the Teen Maze event held at Morgan County High School in May. The Morgan County High School (MCHS) hosted a 4-H Club event called Teen Maze on May 5-6. Teen Maze is a series of scenes in which participating students are asked to make decisions about drugs, alcohol, and sex and then are shown where those kinds of decisions can lead. The maze features are a party scene, a car accident scene, a jail scene and even a death scene. Victoria Cagle, VISTA associate for Morgan County 4-H Club, read select testimonials from participating students and the lessons they learned. A total of 270 high school freshmen participated and about 30 upper classmen chose to participate. Cagle read pledges from students who promised to remain abstinent and to stay away from drugs and underage drinking. “We are serious about hearing what these kids have to say about the teen maze,” said Victoria Cagle. “We will use their feedback to make next year’s teen maze even better.” “This is an important event for our kids,” said Nelson Hale, chairman of the BOE. “Kids have told me they never would have thought about wearing their seatbelts if it were not for the teen maze,” noted Sarah Burbach, assistant superintendent.

The event combined the goals of The Youth Development Strategy, The Drug and Alcohol Free Youth Strategy and Teen Pregnancy and STD Prevention Strategy. According to Velde Hardy, coordinator for Family Connection, students wandered through a maze of “bad decisions” to see the possible consequences of making similar decisions, such as drinking and driving, using drugs, dropping out of school, unplanned pregnancies, or having unprotected sex. “It raises awareness about unwise choices and the very real dangers of bad decisions,” said Hardy. The latest data reveals that in 2011-2012, Morgan County had higher rates of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use compared with the Georgia State average rates. According to the KIDS COUNT Report, Morgan County fared slightly better than Georgia as a whole concerning teen pregnancy rates. Morgan County ranked a 2.59 percent teen pregnancy rate, whereas the Georgia State average rate was 2.8 percent. The Morgan County rates for STDs among youth were lower than state averages, but in the past three years, the percentage of STDs among Morgan County youth has risen from 1.75 percent to 2.69 percent, according to the report.

Family Connection also wants to better prepare the youth for their soon-coming transition into adulthood. Teen Maze was also the culmination of Child Abuse Prevention Month. According to Hardy, Teen Maze is an event that “challenges youth to graduate from high school without getting pregnant, exposing themselves to sexually transmitted diseases, or engaging in deadly behavior along the way.” Hardy described the mission of the Morgan County Family Connection as “a catalyst for expanding citizen’s awareness of the needs of Morgan County Children and families; and for encouraging community partnerships to address these needs.”