With blaring music, strobe lights and the ever-troublesome red Solo cups, several local high-school students partied hard this week — and they learned the consequences involved.
When law enforcement officers from the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, Fort Stewart Military Police and the Georgia State Patrol walked into the “party” and cuffed a number of the students, the fun stopped and the learning began.
The fake party was the starting point for the first-ever Bradwell Institute Teen Maze, an event designed to introduce students to real-life consequences to decisions they will face in the future, according to 10th-grade counselor Brandi Helton.
“This is a safe environment where they can see the possible effects of bad decision-making,” she said. “They can be put in risky situations, but yet they’re safe — and if they make a bad choice, it’s not something that’s going to follow them the rest of their lives; once they exit the maze, then it’s over.”
After the “party,” the arrested students were fingerprinted and booked in jail before seeing a judge, who ordered them to pay fines, perform community service and attend counseling for drug- and alcohol-related offenses.
Those who were not arrested randomly were issued two “life experiences,” which included risky sexual behavior, drug addictions, “sexting” and alcohol poisoning. Consequences for the actions included pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, failure to graduate, loss of scholarships and even death.
“There’s not one scenario that the kids can draw that is not something that they are not familiar with,” Helton said.
Graduation coach Lea Bailey said the event also reminds students that some behaviors they think are innocent can have serious repercussions.
“I think they don’t really think about some of these things being dangerous,” Bailey said. “Like taking a picture of somebody flashing at a party — because they’re all friends there — or texting, because it seems like just a text.”
Helton learned about the idea through her sister, who serves as the operations director for Bulloch County Communities in Schools, where employees created the program about two years ago in Statesboro high schools.
The event was open to seniors and sophomores because freshmen and juniors already have similar programming, Bailey said. The guidance office intends to make the maze an annual program, though doing so requires a team of 30-40 volunteers.
Senior Amanda Fay was among a handful of students in her “party” to be cuffed and escorted out of the room. She was slapped with more than $2,800 in fines for hosting the party, putting others in danger and having an open container.
“I thought it was really good just for the fact that these kids may not always have the chance to go to parties and stuff like that, but if they go when they’re in college, … they realize the repercussions of it now,” Fay said.
Her penalties also included 50 hours of community service and six months of substance-abuse treatment. And just to make the experience more realistic, those arrested were forced to wear disorienting beer goggles as they were escorted from the party, booked in the jail and held in their cells.
“I would never want to get that intoxicated or that wasted, because I would not be able to function,” Fay said of the goggles.
The senior said the experience likely will influence some of her decisions when she attends Kennesaw State University this fall.
“Definitely, you know, have fun, but control myself,” she said.
Fellow senior Saulo Encarnacion said the event gave him a sense that peer pressure has its pitfalls.
Encarnacion’s scenario was that he smoked spice, or synthetic marijuana, with some friends after class and was arrested for erratic driving while high. He completed his court-mandated treatment but fell back into abusing drugs, which eventually led him to drop out of school.
But the senior, who will attend Georgia Southern University this fall, said he does not intend to let such roadblocks stand between him and his college degree.
“Right now, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do any of this. But if something like that were to happen, it’s giving you sort of an outline of what would happen to you if something like this did happen,” he sa