The only certainties for freshman students at the Bradley County Life Maze are death and taxes. A half day away from school allowed ninth grade students from Cleveland City Schools and Bradley …
The only certainties for freshman students at the Bradley County Life Maze are death and taxes.
A half day away from school allowed ninth grade students from Cleveland City Schools and Bradley County Schools to visit the Cleveland Family YMCA for the fourth annual Life Maze event, where they were given scenarios and instructed to go booth to booth, discovering how one bad decision can lead to an entangling web of problems.
The Cleveland Daily Banner followed the maze with Ian, a Walker Valley High School student who lined up with his classmates and was given a scenario. According to the sticker placed on his paper, he got drunk at a graduation party and had unprotected sex, leading to a STI. He was instructed to go to the clinic, a booth at the center of the gym.
There, after a short lecture about sexually transmitted diseases and infections from a Bradley County health professional, he was given a second sticker that informed him that he tested positive for gonorrhea. She quizzed him.
“Can you get rid of gonorrhea?” she asked.
“Uh, yeah,” Ian hesitated.
“You’re right, it’s an infection and I can give you an antibiotic for it.”
She informed him that, according to his new sticker, his relationship with his partner was now damaged after the STI, so he needed to go to the booth on healthy relationships.
There, they explained that the depression from his relationship struggles led to drug abuse. This sticker told Ian he had overdosed and was found unresponsive at the park, so he went to the EMT booth.
A local EMT demonstrated how she would revive an overdose victim. She held up a long, clear tube about an inch in diameter and explained that for victims with a heartbeat who aren’t breathing, she has to stick that down their trachea. Attaching a balloon-like bag on the end, she said she squeezes it with her hand to help them breathe.
“So, do you want to end up like him?” she gestured to the intubated mannequin.
Ian and his classmates shook their heads “no” and received their next scenario.
A needle near the body indicated illegal narcotics were involved, so Ian was sent to court.
The judge put him on probation, and his new sticker led him to his probation officer. She explained what probation was, and told Ian that in addition to staying away from drugs, he needs to hold down a job and a place to live. He fulfilled his probation and started going to school, according to his last sticker. So he went to the education track, where volunteers offered apartment options, prices for utility bills, phone plans and options for transportation for Ian to choose from to fit his $1,400 budget.
He chose a studio apartment, a cheap grocery shopping plan, moderate phone and internet bundles and had enough money leftover for a monthly car payment on a nice truck.
Not all scenarios were like Ian’s. In line at each booth, some students shared that they were pregnant and had to go to a parent health clinic. Others died right away and visited the funeral home booth, complete with a casket and materials to write their eulogy. Others violated their probation and were sent to a jail cell at the corner of the gym.
At the exit interview, volunteers asked students questions about what they learned. On his toxic relationship, Ian said he knew he could talk to his dad or brother if that really happened. As for his series of bad decisions, it was explained that he also made good decisions along the way, like getting treated for his STI, going to counseling and sticking to his probation.
“We want them at the very beginning to see that they are going to be in situations that are going to be tough, and how to get out of those situations, or how not even to put yourself into those situations,” said Amy Davenport, health educator with the Bradley County Health Department. “So we want them to see that those consequences that are there can affect your future.”
The maze is put together by the Bradley County Health Council and the University of Tennessee Extension Office. With the help of around 150 volunteers from agencies across the county, the YMCA hosted 1,320 freshman to help them learn about choices and consequences.
Ian determined during his exit interview that he could have avoided the STI, counseling, drugs, court and his series of setbacks if he didn’t drink or have unprotected sex in the first place. But he was also able to see how much basic needs, like a food, car and apartment, might realistically cost.
Justin Thomas, Bradley County’s UT Extension director, said the Life Maze is about giving students a “dose of reality” in a way that can also be fun.
Davenport said they offer the Life Maze to freshman only because ninth grade students are at a critical age for learning life lessons.
“I think a really good thing about this age is that they are able to see if they get into trouble, there are resources out there and that there are people in the community that can help you,” she said.
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