4 Actual Adults Who Pretended to Be High Schoolers, ‘Never Been Kissed’ Style
Sometimes, in service of a good story, Hollywood can get away with situations that in reality are a whole lot ickier. Just imagine the many complications that would arise when trying to Weekend at Bernie’s a corpse that’s rapidly decomposing, bloating, attracting thousands of flies and entering rigor mortis. It’s a lot easier to go, “Nah, he’s just going to be really floppy, and we’ll toss some sunglasses on him.”
Another movie that in real life carries a bit more ick, in less of a physical and more of a situational way, is 1999’s Never Been Kissed. In the movie, Drew Barrymore is a fully adult 25-year-old reporter who goes undercover as a high school student. As they often did in the 1990s, hijinks ensued. And yes, there is a romantic interest, which they thankfully didn’t make another student, but did make a teacher who is conflicted about falling in love with, in theory, a minor in one of his classes. Classic feel-good stuff!
Unfortunately, the idea of an adult surreptitiously re-enrolling in high school or pretending to be a child isn’t just a thought experiment. It’s happened in reality, more than once. Unsurprisingly, almost every single time, the results are plenty disturbing. Here are four such examples…
Okay, let’s get the most uncomfortable one out of the way first. The romance subplot of Never Been Kissed is definitely a part of the movie that feels the most unpleasant to delve into, and for good reason. In reality, imagining two people engaging in romance — and, well, all that comes with that — with that degree of subterfuge is criminal. You’ve already got someone misleading a partner, and then that unpleasant package is wrapped in the involvement of a minor.
So when a real-life man named Zachary Scheich, who was 26, pretended to be a high school student for 54 days in Lincoln, Nebraska, it’s not surprising that he ended up being charged as a sex criminal. He was only 5-foot-4, which was the school’s explanation for how he was able to pull this off. Of course, that doesn’t totally make sense. Just because his adult face was closer to the ground, you thought he was a kid? When you see a short elderly man, do you think, “God, that toddler has terrible skin”?
Hyejeong Shin, a 29-year-old woman in New Brunswick, New Jersey, falsely enrolled herself in high school at the beginning of this year. Her motivations aren’t quite as clear as the last entry, but we can also assume that they’re probably nothing good. It’s unlikely anybody is going through all this trouble just to get a second chance to taste that cardboard-adjacent cafeteria pizza. Police suspect she may have been trying to recruit students into a sex-trafficking ring, which is exactly the kind of disgusting thing that unfortunately, this list invites.
To New Brunswick High School’s credit, she didn’t get anywhere near the month mark, much less 54 days. Pretty much immediately, somebody noticed and remarked on the high school student who appeared to clearly have the face of someone who paid rent. She was removed from classes and interrogated, I assume with the premier question being: “What the fuck?”
Only because it clocks in under two stories that involve sex crimes, confirmed or suspected, does this entry feel wholesome in any way, shape or form. At the very least, the adults who pretended to be high school students in this scenario had a purpose beyond general creepery. Given that the purpose was an A&E television show, though, it’s not like this was an unassailable, honorable mission. You’re still an adult sitting in geometry, and that’s never going to feel great.
Seven full-ass grown-ups were surreptitiously inserted into normal high school student bodies for the show Undercover High. In theory, it was supposed to be a way to learn about the troubles that students face from their own perspective, without the filter they might put on when talking to adults. If you’re the most gullible person alive, with a pantry packed with magic beans, you might believe that. Personally, I’m not giving it any more credit than run-of-the-mill ghoulish reality television.
Oh, it turns out high school kids are mean to each other? Word? Let’s get you a grant for this groundbreaking study.
Natalia Grace Barnett
Settle in and get even more uncomfortable for this last entry. Impersonating a high schooler as an adult is tough, but given the right genes and skincare, is maybe something you could sneak by on. Pretending to be a six-year-old child as an adult is a bit more of a nonstarter. At least, for most of us. If you have the right combination of a rare medical disorder and an extremely terrifying mind, however, it is possible, as proved by Natalia Grace Barnett.
Michael and Kristine Barnett were informed by an adoption agency that they had a child with dwarfism named Natalia Grace available, but that she’d be going into foster care in 24 hours. They, out of the pure kindness of their hearts, stepped up and offered to adopt her, and soon they had a new six-year-old daughter. Supposedly. What they actually had just adopted was a 23-year-old Ukrainian woman with a bone disorder and what would later be diagnosed as sociopathy.
The details are both numerous and highly disturbing, but hitting just the highlights, their brand new baby girl hoarded knives and appeared at the foot of their bed holding one at night, smeared feces all over the inside of their car and added cleaning supplies to her new mom’s coffee. She ended up, as you tend to do after all the above, in a mental asylum, where the mystery started to unravel. Once everyone realized what was actually happening, well… no one really knew what to do. There was no standard operating procedure here. The Barnetts put her in a cheap apartment and left her to fend for herself, but then eventually were charged with neglect for it.
The whole thing is a horrific mess, but it’s honestly kind of impressive that someone can do a crime so deeply weird that the modern legal system has no idea how to approach it.