Hi, I'm Lisa and I was a child prodigy. When I say child prodigy, I don't mean "gee, I was MVP on my baseball team," or "I was captain of the cheerleaders." I mean that for about a year, way back in 1984, I was a nationally known celebrity. I appeared in newspapers from coast to coast. I was on Phil Donahue's Gifted and Talented Kids episode alongside pre-teen concert violinist Eunice Lee, legendary concert pianist Lorin Hollander, and a 12 year old Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton on Fresh Prince). News helicopters landed on the football field at my elementary school. NBC sent a limo to my home to pick me up at take me to the NBC affiliate in Tampa, where I was interviewed by Bryant Gumbel. I was on the cover of Star, my photo roughly the same size as Michael Jackson's, who was on the same cover.
So what was my accomplishment? Why was I famous? Find out behind the cut!
It wasn't an accomplishment at all. It was something I was born with. I was a certified genius, with a documented IQ of 185. I know that in recent years, the definition of intelligence has been expanded, and the importance of IQ has been downgraded. But in 1984, it was still a HUGE deal. Apparently I'm one in ten million. Mensa requires an IQ of 132, or two standard deviations above the norm. Mine's more than five standard deviations above the norm. To put it in perspective, if my IQ was that far below normal, it would be around 15!!
Anyway, my school career was anything but normal. I started reading when I was a year old. I was reading my mom's college textbooks when I was two. Mom finally put me in preschool when I was three, because she wasn't sure what else to teach me at home. The school bumped me up to kindergarten. The local paper ran a story on me then, which I miraculously still have. It survived Katrina. In one of the photos, I'm playing chess with my father...again, I was three.
The school ended with kindergarten, so I went to another private school the next year. I completed both first and second grade in a single year, when I was four. When I turned five, we tried public school. They dumped me in kindergarten, despite my having completed third grade with excellent marks! I started getting stressed and sick. My parents finally convinced the school to put me in third grade (the school refused fourth, solely due to age). The next year they put me in "accelerated fourth." I was still bored, stressed and sick a lot.
I've never been able to learn linearly, so my education was extremely uneven. I taught myself algebra through a computer game, but I didn't know the multiplication tables. My reading abilities were off the charts. Finally my parents insisted on more testing. My IQ was tested when I was three, with a score of 183, but apparently IQ results aren't always reliable in kids that young. So everyone assumed it was an anomaly. I was tested again in early 1984, at the age of seven. My IQ was 185. Clearly the earlier test wasn't a fluke. I was tested for grade level equivalency in every subject as well.
Finally, the school system held a meeting to determine my fate. It was decided that for the 1984-1985 school year, I would go on an unprecedented split schedule. In the afternoons, I would attend Scott Lake Elementary School for subjects such as science and social studies. In the mornings, I would attend Lakeland Senior High School, taking English for Gifted Sophomores, French I, and a resource class for gifted high schoolers. Math, where my skills were most uneven, would be with a private mentor.
The reporter who had written about me years earlier was trying to make a name for herself as an education reporter, and asked for permission to attend the meeting. She thought the results were fascinating, and asked for permission to release the story to the Associated Press. Thinking it would be used for minor filler, my parents agreed.
By the time we got home that night, the phone was ringing off the hook. For the next months, I was the celebrity du jour, in a frenzy leading up to the beginning of the next school year. One of my proudest accomplishments was being awarded a Golden Eagle Award by the American Academy of Achievement. The organization holds summits each year to bring together high achieving high school students and distinguished celebrities. At the time, the Academy had a third category, for exceptional up and coming young people. There were three of us that year, who received the prestigious Golden Eagle Award.
My mom and I flew to Minneapolis for the multi-day summit. It was mind-boggling. Celebrity award winners included President Jimmy Carter, Quincy Jones, Franco Harris, Ray Charles, John Travolta, Ed Asner and author Douglas Hofstadter, to name just a few. They gave speeches and held symposiums during the official event, but what was incredible was what happened between times. We had nearly complete access to the celebrity guests. My hotel room was on the same floor as theirs. I chatted with Ray Charles in the elevator. Franco Harris shared my lunch table. I had a long talk with President Carter. I realized that these people were important, of course, but I was too young to realize that I should be intimidated. I just interacted with them like normal, and they treated me the same way. When I received my award, at a $1000 a plate dinner, all of the celebrity guests were in attendance. Wish I could remember my acceptance speech!
Unfortunately, the school experiment didn't work. I did wonderfully at the high school, but hated going back to the elementary school, with its constricting rules and lack of freedom. Additionally, the school system assigned off-duty bus drivers, in street clothes and personal cars, to transport me across town between schools. It was someone different every day, and I was scared to get in strangers' cars with no way to identify them. I started getting stressed out again.
A new private school opened that seemed tailor-made for me. Rather than traditional grade assignments, students were assigned based on ability level. For example, someone might take 7th grade science, 5th grade math and 9th grade history. Beckett had a strong academic focus and a hands-on teaching style. So a few months into the school year, I transferred.
The media turned on me. I still remember the Orlando Sentinel headline: Experiment Failed. Lisa Frack no longer in high school. On the front page, no less. It was the same all across the country. Looking back on it now, maybe things weren't as bad as they seemed. But to me, as a barely-eight year old, it felt like they were saying that I failed. It seemed very personal.
Eventually the hype died down. The private school didn't make it, and the public schools didn't want me back I spent the next few years bouncing around, attending some very weird and scary Christian schools. When I was 10, I landed in a really creepy Southern Baptist school. I had some truly awful experiences in my two years there, and came to find out that the pastor was literally preaching against me at church every Sunday!
For the next year, I transferred yet again. The new school was Episcopalian, which made me nervous, but was highly respected for its academic focus. I entered Trinity Preparatory School for the 1988-1989 school year, as a 12 year old sophomore. My education was so messed up by this point that nobody really knew where I should be, so the school did placement testing and 10th grade seemed like the closest fit.
During my admissions interview, we discussed the difficulties I had at my previous school. The admissions counselor suggested that to avoid trouble, I simply lie about my age. From students to teachers to staff, no one not in the room that day, except for the headmaster, knew my true age. For the first time in life, I could simply be a normal high school student...except that was when the self-monitoring became ingrained. I couldn't admit childish interests or habits at school, and I couldn't tell my same-age friends at home about my life at school.
I had begun self-censoring when I was six, and I found out that other six year olds didn't want to sit in my house and play Dungeons of the Algebra Dragons. But this time, I had to get pretty creative to cover random situations. Like why I was still riding the bus senior year, when every single person in my class had a new car. I had first period free, along with most of the "in crowd." We often went out to breakfast, but on one particular morning pretty much everyone had a test the next period. I was in a different 2nd period class, so no test. One of the guys asked me to take his car (a brand new BMW) to pick up breakfast for everyone. Don't remember what I said to get out of it...I was 14 and had never driven in my life. It was tough getting through day to day life always trying to figure out what to say to whom.
Although I was accepted at several colleges, I decided to live at home and go to community college. With CLEP and AP credit, I got my AA in theater performance in one year. Dad wasn't too happy when I decided to CLEP basic math after going through trigonometry in high school. Age wasn't really discussed, as I recall. I think a couple of people knew I was younger, but mostly I was silent on the matter. After graduation, I decided to quit for awhile. I was 15, had been in school since I was three, and knew that nobody would hire a 16 or 17 year old college graduate anyway.
I didn't go back to finish my BA until I was 21 and married to my first husband. I've been married twice. Lots of people don't know that either. Just another thing that's been compartmentalized over the years. Now you know why. So there you have it. My early life in a nutshell. It's been bouncing around in my brain for awhile now, hence the post a few months back about writing my memoir. But everything didn't really come together until I went to the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site today. I wrote in the guest book about how much Carter had inspired me and the way that I've tried to live my life. That's when I realized that, for better or worse, my life experiences have shaped who I am today. And I'm tired of running from myself. I don't want to hide anymore.