Local student gets island education

17-year-old studied abroad in the Bahamas
By: Martha Garcia, Colfax Record Editor
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A Colfax High School junior who attended a unique school last fall wants to spread the word to other students about the opportunity to learn in a completely different environment. Samantha Saccomanno came across the Island School in the Bahamas while she did research online in her quest to study abroad. The 17-year-old Cedar Ridge resident said the small school – about 48 students are selected to attend either the fall or spring term – pushes students athletically, academically and mentally. “The school challenged you to think outside of box – it’s a different approach to academics,” Samantha said. The school focuses on experiential learning with an emphasis on sustainability and conserving energy. “All of the teachers were very enthusiastic about teaching. They didn’t have any textbooks or tests … You had your computer but you didn’t have your cell phone or didn’t have Internet access. You are kind of in this little bubble outside of the world, where you didn’t have a lot of materialistic things, but you have so much from other people like happiness, friendship, so much to learn from.” Students had to choose between training for a half-marathon or a four-mile swim in the ocean. Samantha chose the super-swim, which meant training at 6:30 a.m. for an hour five days a week and 1 1/2 hours on Saturday. The mental challenge came from being away from home for the first time and being active from 6:15 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. “You’re either exercising or going to classes or doing homework,” she said. Teschna Christie, the marine ecology teaching fellow and Samantha’s adviser at the Island School, said Samantha thrived in the environment the school provided for her. “She stood up to any challenge that was thrown at her. Right from the beginning she showed great leadership,” Christie said. “Her first challenge was her first breaths underwater. It was a new experience for Sam that she embraced fully. As she began to see fish, coral, sponges and invertebrates working together to form a coral reef community she understood the importance.” Although the Island School is a $23,00 program, Samantha applied when she fund out financial aid was available. Samantha is proud that she was able to come up with the $4,330 that she did have to pay with earnings from jobs such as house cleaning. “That money I worked off during the summer. I paid for everything, including my airfare round trip. I didn’t want my parents to pay for it. I wanted to work and pay it off. I did and it made me feel pretty good,” she said. This was Samantha’s first time away from home, but she said she didn’t really have time to be homesick. However, the program was so demanding and challenging “that there were times you want the comfort of being home,” she said. Even though she lives in the Nevada Union High School district, Samantha switched to Colfax for its track and pole-vaulting program. Colfax High athletic director Rob Hitchcock said Samantha is a very hard-working student and athlete with a lot of energy and exuberance for sports and life in general. “This trip really fit her – the kind of thing where she wanted to go and see the world, a little more than little Colfax,” Hitchcock said. “I hope Colfax is a big enough place for her to stick around for graduation here.” The Island School is located on the southern cape of Eleuthera in the Bahamas, in what Samantha described as a paradise. “It is more remote and less well known for tourism. In my opinion we got to know about the country and their culture more,” Samantha said. Studying abroad was an eye-opening experience for Samantha. “I think I definitely became more independent … more knowledgeable about life and what’s out there. There’s a lot of amazing people and places out there besides Northern California,” she said. “Being able to be on my own and visit another country and other people changed my outlook on life, made me realize what I want to do with my life. … I want to be happy and help other people out, travel … and set up sustainable development throughout other countries in the world.”