The Cambrian

Coast Union High chosen as Top AFS School for 2015

The 2015 Top AFS School honor awarded recently to Coast Union High School means much more than just a plaque on a wall. It means local AFS-USA students who apply to study abroad will be able to compete each year for a $1,000 scholarship to apply toward their international studies.

Each participating student must compose and submit a 350-word essay about what it means to be a global citizen.

According to information that accompanied the award’s announcement, the designation honors schools that have partnered with AFS “to foster global citizenship through intercultural learning, from hosting international students and sending students abroad to working with AFS-USA” to teach students about living and learning in foreign countries.

School-year students live with local families, learn the language and carry full-load schedules of required, elective and extracurricular subjects. Summer-program students spend the midyear period in language study in a foreign school, staying with a host family.

International students at Coast this year are Kilian Wesemann from Hamburg, Germany, and Sophie Alexander from New Zealand, according to retired Coast high school teacher Sharon Bisso of Cayucos, who has shepherded the AFS program at the school since 1981 (continuing into her retirement). She estimated Coast hosts at least one international student a year, and sends a local teen abroad every two or three years for summer or school-year studies. 

Bisso said the “top schools” program has been in place for three years, and 57 schools were selected nationwide to receive the honor this year. She doesn’t have statistics on how many AFS students Coast has hosted or sent overseas since launching the program here (reportedly in the 1950s), but she said many more international students come here. 

Local or international, “they’re usually powerhouse kids,” like Coast’s Sarah Wright, Darlene Damm or Kris Greek, she said. “They come back so excited, and their excitement is contagious.” 

Many local host families have children of similar ages as their international visitor, which can encourage cultural sharing and foster lifelong friendships.

AFS coordinator Caren Marre said Coast was selected for the honor “because of their very long history of supporting the mission of AFS through hosting students in their community as well as sending their own citizens to new and faraway places in the world. This support of building bridges of peace and understanding through intercultural exchange is exactly why they received this award.  

“Coast Union’s dedication to intercultural learning is the kind of support all students need to become the global citizens we need in our world today,” Marre said. “A true understanding of other peoples and cultures is what we at AFS believe can and will make the difference in this wonderful world of ours.”

The administration at Coast supports intercultural education in numerous ways, such as the annual Pinedorado 5K Fun Run, which raises money for students to study abroad. Funds from the run also help defray expenses for international students who attend Coast.


The AFS-USA nonprofit was formerly known as American Field Service. According to its website,, the service “is a leader in intercultural learning” that has been exchanging students throughout the world for more than 65 years.

To learn more about being a host family, go to