When high school students crowd around a beer pong table with dance music blasting, you might think school would be the last thing on their minds. In this situation, however, that’s exactly where they are.
It is a simulated party, created through a collaboration between Mountain View High School and the Marana Prevention Alliance. This party is the first step in a series of events that took place at the “Teen Maze” drug prevention program last week.
Throughout the school day, over 400 students (the entire sophomore class) attended the Teen Maze. The process began with groups of students entering the party. Balloons, a twister mat, hip hop music, beer pong and of course, red Solo cups. After a few minutes of reckless fun, officers burst in, flashlights beaming and tell everyone to line up.
“Oh snap!” one high schooler shouted.
“Hide the beer,” another said, laughing.
The police ask if anyone’s been drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana. The red solo cups turn from entertainment to evidence. As the students are seated throughout the busted party, the police hand out color-coordinated pamphlets: Timelines of possible futures. The pamphlets say things like “Visit each station: Court, Probation, Substance Abuse.”
The officers then led the students into the gym, eight stations are set up, each run by local professionals of their field. There’s a police booth, a court booth, a career booth. Say a student was hypothetically found drinking underage, they’d go to the police booth and try a field sobriety test, then they’d go to court to find out their sentence.
“We wanted to make it as realistic as possible,” said Mary Anne Fout, of the prevention alliance. “It helps engage both the students and the volunteers. It’s fun at the party, but then students think ‘wow this could actually happen’, and that’s exactly what we want.”
MVHS counselor Bruce Hesse said he thinks that the kids are taking another look at consequences, and deciding to make better decisions.
“At first some of the students might thinks it’s all fun, but then they reflect,” Hesse said. “Hopefully, this will transfer not just to the party scene, but to the rest of their experiences as well. It’s helping out with life skills.”
Dale Cardy, prosecutor for the juvenile unit of the Pima County attorney’s office, worked among dozens of other volunteers to help the students.
“It’s been very positive,” Cardy said. “This event lets students think about things in a safe environment. You can kind of see a light go on in some of their eyes.”
Some of the students, upon failing their beer-goggle field sobriety test, were even put in the back of a police car and told about their rights and the repercussions of their potential actions.
“The students seem to be engaged, seeing how choices can affect their lives,” said Deputy Caudillo, school resource officer for MVHS. “Being hypothetically under arrest helps put it into perspective.”
Founded in 1997, Marana Prevention Alliance seeks to prevent the use of marijuana, prescription drugs, and underage drinking in northwest rural Pima County. This “Teen Maze” is one of their newest efforts, and once research and surveys are completed on the program’s effectiveness, they hope to make an instructional booklet of it for other schools to potentially use.
“It’s been a real team effort,” Fout said. “We’re excited to do more.”
The Marana Prevention Alliance has scheduled another Teen Maze at Marana High School for March 6.