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Teen Maze 2022 helps 7th graders navigate tough issues

More than 1,300 students are attending the in-person event this week was had been on hold for three years.

BOONE COUNTY, Iowa — A week-long event is drawing more about 1,300 7th graders from across central Iowa to the Boone County Fairgrounds.

Teen Maze 2022 aims to help teens navigate tough issues they are beginning to face.

Casey Hanson is a 13-year-old who said he was looking forward to the event.

"I was excited about it," he said.

Here's how the "maze" works:

Students walk through a dozen themed spaces learning about issues teens increasingly face.  Those topics include:

  • Relationships
  • Parenting
  • Bullying
  • First impressions
  • Financial literacy
  • Equity, inclusion, and empathy
  • Alcohol
  • Juvenile court
  • Body image
  • Tobacco and vaping
  • Mental health
  • Social media

In one room, actors portray a party scene and try to entice student into underage drinking.  Those who partake are busted by a real-life Boone County sheriff's deputy.

"This age is important, because this is a real year of transition for many of these kids that might be the first year they're home alone, so we're giving them some tools," said Gerri Bugg, director of youth and family development for YSS.

The in-person version of the program had been a hold for three years because of the pandemic.

This comes as a new survey from the CDC shows the impact the pandemic had on teens.

The survey, which was published in April, shows that more than four in 10 high schoolers reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless during the pandemic. That number is up from pre-pandemic levels.

"Suicide has become an issue the last couple years, so we've emphasized that," said Bugg. "We've really tried to stay current with the trends."

Organizers say participants give the program high marks.

"Kids feel they've learned something, they feel they'll make better choices, and they feel they'll change their behavior as a result of it," said Bugg.

And Hanson seems to echo that.

"This is going to be a big part of our future--knowing how to do some of these things and knowing how and what not to do," said Hanson.

The event wraps up on April 8.  A similar event is scheduled for April 22 at Ames High School.