Seventeen-year-old Sadie Feuerstein was thrilled to find out she has been chosen to tour with the internationally acclaimed performance and community service group “Up with People” after she graduates from The Winston School in Del Mar this spring. Being selected for the elite program would be an honor for any student, but Sadie had particular reason to be happy and thankful. She earned this opportunity after she came perilously close to dropping out of public school her sophomore year.
A gifted vocalist who plays piano and bass, Sadie struggled academically through elementary and junior high school with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). She said her ADD made her want to drop out of the large public high school when she began feeling lost in the crowd and her grades plummeted.
“It was a slow breakdown,” she said. “I thought — well I’m failing at school and probably not going to get anything done here so why bother if I’m not going to graduate.”
It was at this low point when her parents discovered The Winston School, a college preparatory program which offers hope and success for children with learning differences in grades 4 through 12. In addition to having an impressive track record with educating students with ADD, Winston had the added benefit of an extensive arts curriculum providing classic training and a creative outlet. Sadie said while her parents were thrilled with the school’s credentials and success, “I was sold the minute I learned they had a rock band!”
Upon starting at the school, Sadie said she was not only officially diagnosed with ADD, but also confirmed her belief that she is an auditory learner. “I always knew I was an auditory learner because somebody would say something to me and I could say it back to a ‘T.’ I’ve always found it so much easier to learn by listening rather than staring at a book being clueless. I just didn’t know what it was called until I got to the Winston School.”
She quickly benefited from Winston’s smaller classes that offer individual attention and customized solutions for her particular learning challenges. “I used to have to compete with 50 plus students for the teacher’s time and just didn’t feel like I could accomplish anything so I wanted to leave school,” she said. “At Winston, the teachers pushed me in a new direction, teaching me there is a much better way of doing something than just quitting.”
Sadie’s considerable creativity also flourished after coming to Winston. She is a lead singer for the school band for which she plays bass as well as keyboards, and school productions have offered ample opportunities to perform on stage including the school’s recent talent show where she sang Nickleback’s “If Today Was Your Last Day.” She also performed “Defying Gravity” from the musical “Wicked” at one of the school’s previous talent shows and was a lead in The Winston School’s summer arts program production of the musical “Grease,” performing the part of Sandy.
The Winston School’s music director Matt Curreri said she not only shines on stage, but is also a creative force behind the scenes. “I encourage each student’s individual talents and have discovered Sadie is very good at arranging harmonies. She adds to the band’s performances by teaching harmony parts for certain songs while I focus on making sure the bass, guitar and other instruments all play together.”
For students like Sadie with learning differences, Curreri said, the noise factor alone can make a music program challenging for students and teachers but the rock band program defies obvious reason. “A lot of our kids are great musicians. Most have this innate musical talent that may not always work in a classical music program but a rock band is perfectly suited in that it is more free-form and taps into their creativity.”
For those who missed Sadie’s talent show appearance, there may still be opportunities to see her perform before she graduates. Winston hosts its annual Festival of the Arts on May 14 which showcases student creativity in the visual and performing arts. And many of Sadie’s fans will hear her final performances with the Winston Band with decidedly mixed emotions. On Friday evening June 3, the school will have its final evening coffee house allowing students to perform music, share poetry and enjoy the company of fellow artists in a relaxed atmosphere.
Next up is the world stage. While she won’t get the official “Up with People” tour schedule until three months before she leaves, she hopes the internationally focused tour will include the United States where friends can come to a show.
“I know they have performed at the Rose Bowl and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, so you never know!”