Shelly Donahue doesn’t pull any punches.
She doesn’t mince words.
She doesn’t mix messages.
She tells students at Gretna Middle School and High School every two years the consequences of starting a sexual relationship before marriage. Then she tells the parents.
Donahue’s semi-annual meeting with the students in Gretna took place last week.
“It’s important for our kids to hear the message a number of times,” said Dr. Kevin Riley, Gretna’s superintendent of schools. “A one and done never sinks in for very long.”
Gretna started the program, called W.A.I.T. training, 11 years ago. W.A.I.T. stands for Why Am I Tempted? and focuses on abstinence until marriage. It’s a much different curriculum than is being taught to most middle schoolers and high schoolers across the country.
“We knew 11 years ago our kids were going off to college and we were aware of what was happening during that freshman and sophomore year,” Riley said, referring to the high numbers of STD infections and pregnancy nationwide. “We knew we had to protect them as best we could, making them aware of the types of things they were going to be facing.”
Donahue, who’s now branching out on her own under the name Tall Truth (she stands 6-foot-3 without her signature high heels), has a passion for teaching students — and parents — the dangers of engaging in sex before marriage.
She knows hearing her message every two years might seem a little too much for the students.
“Maybe the talk is, ‘The tall lady’s coming to tell us not to have sex,’” she said. “No, the tall lady’s coming to tell you I want you to wait so you can have great sex someday, not right now. It’s not good for you yet. I want you to reach your hopes and dreams for the future so I’m just asking you to delay. Just have some sexual self control.”
And if she had to pick between meeting with students or meeting with parents, she’d much rather meet with parents.
“You guys teach your kids all the time,” she said. “You get to be with your kids 100 hours, I get to be with them one. It’s always better for me to give parents the information. Parents can’t give their kids something they never got. We want to give you the why, how and support piece so you can do that with your teenagers.”
Donahue met with middle schoolers at GMS March 11 and met with parents that night. She met with the high school students March 12.
But for Donahue — and for Gretna — abstinence education isn’t something just done at home or even at school. It’s done everywhere in the community.
“Parents need to be doing it, the church needs to be doing it, the school needs to be doing it,” she said. “You need to have guests come in and collaborate. Kids hear better from other people sometimes than they do from us.”
And that’s why you shouldn’t expect Donahue’s semi-annual visits to change any time soon.
“Bringing her back every two years has been beneficial to our kids, it’s been beneficial to our teachers,” Riley said.
“We’re proud of the fact that we think we’re telling our kids the truth about this stuff. Because I know we are. That was the intent from the beginning. If we’re a model, so be it. We just want our kids and our families to know the truth.
“This is what our kids need to hear, this is what we need to hear.”