It Straight program
Layer by Layer
Drive to Succeed
with their bodies, students learn to transform body positions
into straightforward communications.
As a counselor
in 1985 at Bishop McGuiness Catholic High School in Oklahoma City,
David Morton knew communication with students was a problem. Many
of the 720 students at the racially diverse school hesitated to
speak to him about their own or others problems with alcohol
and drug abuse, sexual activity or suicidal feelings.
That changed when Morton brought Say It Straight, a substance abuse
prevention program, to Bishop McGuiness. Created by Paula Englander-Golden,
UNT professor of rehabilitation, social work and addictions, the
program promotes behavioral changes through communication skills
When I first learned about Say It Straight in a workshop,
I began to recognize a lot of stumbling blocks with students in
communication skills, says Morton, now Bishop McGuiness
principal. But students who completed the program were immediately
more open. They began coming to me more with their problems or their
friends problems and were more willing to listen to me.
The skills students learn in Say It Straight help them to say no
to cheating, shoplifting and other behaviors besides alcohol and
drug abuse, says Susan Armoni, who has conducted Say It Straight
training with students in the Dallas and Plano school districts.
The students I trained were at risk for dropping out of school
and using drugs. If we can strengthen their resistance against alcohol
and drug abuse, we can strengthen their resistance against all unacceptable
behaviors, she says.
Say It Straight has been funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
In 2001, the departments Expert Panel on Safe, Disciplined
and Drug-Free Schools designated Say It Straight as one of 33 promising
Englander-Golden created the program in the mid-1970s.
I thought that connecting to and putting voice to our inner
wisdom could be a very powerful intervention in substance abuse
situations, she says. I wanted to respond to three questions
students ask: How do I say no to a friend? How
do I tell a friend Ive quit? and How do I tell
friends that Im scared when I see what they are doing?
Participants begin Say It Straight training by first exploring unhealthy
behaviors typically used to relate to others placating, blaming,
being passive-aggressive, lecturing and avoiding. They illustrate
these behaviors by making sculptures with their bodies, learning
to transform these body positions into straightforward communication.
They begin honoring their deepest yearnings and wisdom,
Say It Straight participants also create movies
scenarios from their lives that may cause them to give in to peer
pressure. During the movies, participants explore how they feel
when they use the different communications represented in the sculptures,
by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health, Say It Straight was
tested in 1982 at a Norman middle school. The school had previously
suspended 13 students for substance abuse, but suspended none in
the year after the Say It Straight training.
Another Norman middle school had 40 suspensions for substance abuse
before its students completed Say It Straight. After the training,
the school suspended only one student.
The effect of the training was beyond my wildest dreams,
Rebecca Jim, a counselor at Miami High School in Miami, Okla., uses
the Say It Straight program at a leadership camp for Native American
I was skeptical myself when I first learned about Say It Straight,
and before we start the training, I tell the students that some
of what we will do may feel uncomfortable, she says. Slowly,
they learn that they dont have to be stuck in one communication
style. They realize they have other ways of dealing with peer pressure.
More than 35,000
students across the United States and in several countries have
completed Say It Straight training.
35,000 students across the United States and in several countries
have completed Say It Straight training. More than 2,000 teachers,
counselors, clergy members and law enforcement officials have learned
how to train others.
Say It Straight was recently expanded to include adults in prisons
and substance abuse treatment centers. One center in Fort Worth
had women in treatment for an average of 40 days and women in treatment
for an average of 140 days. After all the women received Say It
Straight training, those who had been in treatment for the shorter
time caught up with the others in communication skills and perceived
quality of life, says Englander-Golden.
In enacting situations that are significant to their lives
in recovery, they discovered how rules and communication processes
can contribute to breakdowns or breakthroughs in relationships,
she says. They learned that when they give voice to their
deepest wishes, their fears of being rejected by a friend or hurting
a friends feelings are largely unfounded.
Say It Straight has been beneficial not just to those who are being
trained, but also to those who are doing the training. Jim says
the skills helped her leave an unhappy marriage.
Paula changed my life, she says. I now have a
different life where I can feel good about myself again.