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“What are you, stupid?” The Principal Asked My Daughter

“What are you, stupid?” The Principal Asked My Daughter

posted by Karen Quinn, The Testing Mom - May 24th, 2016

When my daughter Schuyler was 4, she took her first IQ test. Her verbal scores were stellar – 99th percentile. Her non-verbal scores were in the toilet – some less than 20th percentile, as I recall. Her average score was good enough to get her into the school we wanted, so I never gave the test another thought. What I didn’t understand then was that scores like that were a big red flag that there could be a non-verbal learning issue in her future, and I should have been watching for signs of difficulty understanding anything involving shapes and figures (letters, numbers, graphs, geography, geometry), along with organizational skills.


Although Schuyler struggled in school when it came to non-verbal tasks, her way of coping was to get quiet and not call attention to herself. Some kids with learning issues act out, drawing the spotlight to them, and this often results in a faster diagnosis. Sadly, Schuyler’s issues remained hidden until her 5th grade teacher started calling me every day to say, “Schuyler can’t do this…Schuyler can’t do that – what are you going to do about it?” This came as a shock to me. She was the professional – wasn’t it her job to help Schuyler, or to guide me in helping her? It turns out,no. The fancy private school we were sending Schuyler to in NYC “counseled us out,” which is what in-demand private schools do in these situations. We moved her to a popular public school that accepted her, knowing she had learning issues.


One day, the principal of her school walked into her classroom and conducted a surprise notebook inspection. She saw that Schuyler had failed a 6th grade geometry test, held it up for the entire class to see, and said, “What are you, stupid?” Schuyler, whose learning disability was visual-spatial but who was gifted in the verbal realm, looked at the principal and said, “Is that a rhetorical question?”


Schuyler is what we call “twice exceptional.” She is both gifted and learning disabled at the same time. There are many, many kids like her, kids who struggle in school in one area, but who have the ability to shine in another. These kids are often overlooked, seen as lazy, stubborn or difficult. They do not qualify for gifted programs because their scores average out somewhere in the middle and they usually aren’t given support building up their gifts or help getting stronger where they have learning challenges.


Getting Schuyler through school was a nightmare. Do you know those old Huntington Learning ads where the mother yells at her child, “With grades like that, you’ll never get into college!” And the child yells back, “Face it, I’m not going to college!”  That was us.


After the incident with the principal (who has since been fired, thank you), I took her out of that school. She went to 3 more schools after that one – we just couldn’t find the right “fit.” We finally got her into an amazing school in Miami (Miami Country Day). They were absolute angels and placed her into their Learning Disability Support program, and she graduated high school on time.


A few weeks after the incident with that horrible principal, Schuyler and I were walking down Broadway in Manhattan on a particularly sunny day. Every time we passed a big store window, I noticed that she checked out her reflection.  I said, “What are you looking at?”  Her answer – “Me!”  I said, “Do you like what you see?”  Schuyler looked at me like I was nuts and said, “Yeah-ah!”


Now, you may be wondering, how could a child who struggled so much at school, and was made to feel like a failure there by the very people who were supposed to inspire and educate her, feel so confident about herself? Here’s what I believe was the reason. When Schuyler was 9, we sent her to an arts camp in the Catskills. There, she discovered silk acrobatics, the kind Pink has performed on the Grammys. She loved it. She was good at it. The audience loved watching her do it. So at the end of the summer, I looked for a kid’s silk acrobatics program she could do in NYC. There wasn’t one at the time, but we did find a circus arts program for adults in the city and she joined it, becoming the only child in their troupe.


The next year at camp, she tried out for a musical, Bye Bye Birdie. She got the lead playing Kim, the part Ann-Margret played in the movies, and did great. We didn’t even know she could sing until we heard her perform How Lovely to Be a Woman at age 10.


So this was the key for her, and for any child who may be struggling in school. Look for something outside of the thing your child struggles with, and support them in becoming a “rock star” in that realm. With Schuyler, it was acrobatics and acting. It might have been writing, with her verbal abilities. With your child, it might be singing, playing an instrument, riding horses, competing in sports or at chess – anything that they can become proficient at, so they will feel confident about themselves.


For the rest of Schuyler’s school career, she was the one who was cast in the lead of every play. After she graduated, instead of going to college, she went straight to the Stella Adler acting conservatory – she was the youngest person accepted into their program, which was super-competitive. About 100 kids were admitted, but a group of kids would be asked to leave each semester until only 25 would graduate. Schuyler mustered all her strength and abilities, worked hard, and graduated from the program.


After completing Stella Adler, Schuyler decided not to wait for Hollywood to find her. She would create produce her own feature film: Here One Minute. It’s based on a true story. A dear friend of hers died when coming home from college after her first semester. Schuyler and her other friends struggled to figure out what happened and to make sense of the tragedy. The film is excellent (although it’s a bit scary if you have teenagers and you don’t always know where they are or what they’re doing). Earlier this year, Gravitas Ventures picked up the film (the same indie distributors who gave us Little Miss Sunshine).


I’m so proud of Schuyler for making Here One Minute, especially after all of the struggles she went through in school. She acted in the movie, produced it, and helped write it. She raised all the money to make it, and negotiated everything that needed to be negotiated to get the film made. Although her organizational skills were dreadful in school, she became a ninja organizer when doing something she was passionate about.


All of the actors in the film are kids she went to Stella Adler with except for the actor playing Sarah, who is Schuyler’s close friend, Jo Messner (who is not even an actor; she’s an artist, currently studying at Yale). The film also features Jonathan Safran Foer, one of my favorite writers. Here One Minute was accepted at the LA Film Festival and debuted at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the same one where Star Wars first debuted. Schuyler has been working steadily in film and theater since making this movie, along with being a waitress, of course, which every struggling actress must do.


With Schuyler’s early learning challenges, I used to worry that she would never graduate from high school. She finally did, and the thing that saved her, that kept her dignity and confidence intact, was that we discovered and nurtured the true gifts, which were not the intellectual abilities that are rewarded in school, but were the singing, acrobatics, acting, and performing abilities that are appreciated in real life. If you have a child who is struggling in school, of course you must do everything you can to help him or her get through reading, writing and arithmetic. At the same time, it is so important to help YOUR child discover and nurture his or her true gifts, whether they are intellectual, musical, artistic, or something else. And take heart. Even if your child barely gets through school, he or she may soar later when they can finally pursue their passion.


Schuyler Quinn (center) in a scene from Here One Minute

Schuyler Quinn (center) in a scene from Here One Minute

If you would like to see Schuyler’s film, Here One Minute, click here and order it today. You’ll be very impressed with what this young woman who was once called “stupid” in front of her entire class has created!  Schuyler is the adorable blonde character with the very long hair. You can’t miss her!



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