HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. -- Traveling abroad can be a life-changing experience for high school students: an opportunity to expand their world view, enrich their learning, and gain confidence and independence. For one local student, the rewards go even further in the form of a $60,000 college scholarship.
Elizabeth Contessa, a sophomore at Hoosick Falls Central School, was shocked to hear her name called during a Monday morning high school assembly announcing the winner of a nationwide college tuition giveaway, sponsored by Education First Educational Tours, a company that provides educational travel opportunities for students. Contessa was randomly selected from a pool of thousands of entrants, who had either entered to win or signed up for a trip in 2013.
"I'm in shock, still. I'm shaking," she said shortly after the announcement, which she said she couldn't believe at first because she had not entered the contest, knew nothing about it, and has yet to travel on the qualifying school trip to Europe next spring.
"I didn't know anything about this," she said, her parents managing to keep the surprise a secret. Gary and Jennifer Contessa said they received notification only days earlier, and, upon the first phone call, Gary said he was expecting to be solicited for his Social Security number.
Held in a trust
"It's like 200 pounds off your shoulders," he said, describing the educational windfall for his daughter,which will be held in a trust and used for tuition, room and board, and books. While still a sophomore and unsure of what college or vocation to pursue, Elizabeth said she was thinking about staying in New York state and majoring in art, particularly acrylic painting.
Whether sculpture, painting, or drawing, Gary said he was routinely impressed at school art shows. With myriad opportunities, "Hoosick Falls is such a dynamite school." Jennifer said the scholarship was exciting not only for her daughter and family but the town as well. "That doesn't happen every day."
Scott Dunphy, vice president of marketing at EF tours, said the goal was to "make our tours as educational as possible" covering art, language, history, and culture. He said students often return changed and more decisive about future goals. "This year, we decided to take that one step further," Dunphy said, through the tuition giveaway, which he characterized Monday as a year of tuition at the most expensive college (or possibly four years somewhere less expensive).
The prize coinciding with his birthday this past weekend, Gary agreed he could only hope for similar fortune with Elizabeth's two younger siblings.
"These educational opportunities are extremely valuable," said Jennifer McDonald, a social studies teacher who has helped lead recent HFCS trips through EF tours, including a trip to China this past spring and next year's art trip to Europe. McDonald said the trips provided real-life experiences for students, gave them opportunity to compare and contrast life in other countries, and brought a global perspective back to the classroom.
A substantial scholarship is just an added bonus.