LEARNING CURVE

Leona Mackler has parlayed a lifetime of education and experience into a lucrative practice helping the children of St. Louis' elite achieve their (and their parents') dreams

"(Mackler) started giving me all kinds of tests," he recalls, still bemused. "When I was 13, she gave me entrance tests to law school. At first I didn't know why, and I didn't know I could ask. But she's really open — whatever she writes down about me in my file, she lets me read. Anyway, she'd noticed I could problem-solve really well, as far as thinking quickly on my feet.

"She taught me to use what I have," he continues, "and I started to excel." Today, he's a junior at the elite Whitfield Academy, where he recently made the dean's list, and continues to surprise himself. "Before, everyone just told my parents how good a kid I was; I was fun to have in class; I was playful," he recites, voice hollow and polite. "If I ever did do well, it was always, "Let's do better,' always finding what was wrong. Doc's not like that. I show her my grades and she's like, "That's OK; we'll run with it.'"

Still, Graziano thought Mackler was insane when she suggested he take Latin his freshman year. He was flunking Spanish at the time. Dubiously — because he'd come to trust her the way he trusts maybe three people in the entire world — he took her advice.

Leona Mackler
Jennifer Silverberg
Leona Mackler
John-David Graziano, a junior at Whitfield Academy, says of Mackler: "She taught me to use what I have, and I started to excel."
Jennifer Silverberg
John-David Graziano, a junior at Whitfield Academy, says of Mackler: "She taught me to use what I have, and I started to excel."

He won the Latin Award his first year.

"I don't know how she knows," he exclaims. "She's good at figuring people out. I'm good at that too, actually. I'm thinking I'll major in psychology, go into the Navy Seals and then the CIA. She's got schools picked out for me, but she won't tell me what they are; she wants me to choose for myself."

This is not to say Mackler won't steer, if she thinks the choice is wrong. Or network, if she thinks the student can do it but isn't sure his credentials will convince the board. "They like to play like it's all a lottery," she drawls, "but we work the boards with everyone. I know quite a few of these people. I traveled the country meeting deans. I say, "When we send you some references, we hope you will consider them seriously.' In the beginning, my credentials carried me. Now, the kids make us look good. They get the job done. And they put another chip on the table for someone else."

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