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Teen IDEA Challenge shows that for every choice, there is a consequence

January 22, 2011|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com
  • Madison Gaines, 11, of Hagerstown takes a mock sobriety test Saturday at the 'Choose Your Path Obstacle Course' during the Teen IDEA Challenge 2011 at Leitersburg Cinemas.
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

A teenage girl took a spin Saturday at STD Roulette, the wheel clacking away until the pointer settled on one of the spaces.

"You woke up this morning with Chlamydia," Carla Freeman, a communicable disease nurse, told the girl. "You did choose one that is treatable."

Dozens of adolescent boys and girls took the Teen IDEA Challenge sponsored by the Washington County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition, going through eight interactive stations demonstrating how choices have consequences.

"All of them deal with different choices the teens are going to face," said Shalom Black Lane, executive director of the coalition, which recently changed its name to Teens Have Choices. Held the previous two years at Hagerstown Community College, Saturday's event was at Leitersburg Cinemas, the better to attract the attention of teenagers going to see "The Dilemma" or "No Strings Attached."

Robin Roberson, executive director of the Washington County Community Free Clinic, strapped a 25-pound pregnancy suit onto boys and girls, and handed them a sack of grain to represent a 1-year-old child to demonstrate that having children is a weighty responsibility.

Not all the activities dealt with pregnancy.

Dave Jordan of the Community Action Council handed "beer goggles" to teens and adults, having them toss Velcro balls at a target with various unfortunate outcomes caused by alcohol abuse. Middle school student Hayley Beyer scored a pair of dead pedestrians and a tree.

Diana Courtney of the Washington County Diversion Program, which serves first-time juvenile defenders, tried the field sobriety test with the goggles, weaving well to the right of the blue line taped to the floor.

"I'm the only one who had his graduation robe here," said volunteer Adam Lane, who got to play  judge and mete out punishment, including short jail sentences in a cell in the theater lobby.

Other stations addressed issues such as mental health, tobacco use, finances and nutrition.

While mostly entertaining, the teen challenge was intended to teach some serious life lessons that might be sinking in. The teen birth rate has dropped in Maryland, from 41.2 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19 in 2000 to 31.2 in 2009. For the first time in more than a decade, the rate has fallen two consecutive years in Washington County, but it remains among the highest in Maryland.

In 2008, the county rate was 58 births per 1,000 teens, a figure that fell to 46.9 in 2008 and 40.8 in 2009.

"I just think it's a good cause ... to be informed about the dangers," North Hagerstown High School student Deanna Brunner said of the Teen Challenge. "When you're a teen, you're going to face more (peer) pressure."

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Teens Have Choices

The mission of Teens Have Choices is to reduce teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases by encouraging youths to make healthy choices. The coalition is made up of individuals from the government, business, religious and health care communities. For more information about Teens Have Choices and resources available in this area, go to www.TeensHaveChoices.org.

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