BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Swaying in her chair, snapping her fingers and occasionally humming a tune, Samantha (Sam) Krauss Galán doesn’t seem like she could sit still long enough to take a multi-hour test.
“I love dancing,” said the 16-year-old Anthony Wayne High School senior. “I’ve always been that kid at the family functions begging everyone to turn on some salsa and get dancing.”
But the energetic self-described “nerd” knows how to focus when it counts, and that paid off for Sam, who learned a few weeks ago that she earned a 1,390 out of 1,500 on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT).
“I was asking all my friends if they knew their scores –they’re all nerds, too – and they were getting 1,290s. Then I got a card saying I had 1,390. I didn’t know what that meant, but I got a card,” she laughed.
What it means is that Sam was named a National Merit Commended Student, said her high school counselor, Dan Kalo. She was among the top 50,000 scorers of the 1.3 million juniors nationwide to take the test last school year. Although she missed the cutoff to move on as a semifinalist in the National Merit Scholar program, her score is quite an accomplishment, Kalo said.
“Her dedication to academic excellence sets a high standard for her fellow students, and she exemplifies the spirit of achievement that we strive to instill in all our students,” Kalo said. “Her impressive academic accomplishments and her dedication to excellence are sure to open doors to a world of opportunities as she continues her educational journey beyond high school.”
Sam, who also earned a 33 out of 36 on the ACT test, has a 4.2 GPA and is eyeing University of Cincinnati for either environmental science or environmental engineering.
“I can’t decide whether the research or the invention is more enticing. I’d like to do both, if possible,” she said of the two majors.
Growing up in Monclova, Sam was involved in the Girls on the Run program at Monclova Primary School and still enjoys running with her mini labradoodle, Lucy, through the neighborhood.
“Girls on the Run was a lot of fun. It builds character and discipline. I learned some good moral lessons,” said Sam, who now regularly bikes, skates and does parkour.
While she hasn’t been involved in school sports or clubs as much, Sam’s focus has been on the broader community – including spending four years as a ZooTeen.
The Toledo ZooTeen program provides opportunities to volunteer at educational events and in outreach with other organizations, such as the Metro-parks. During one of the Snooze at the Zoo events – where kids spend the night at the zoo and participate in activities – Sam pulled a 26-hour shift.
“It was so much fun. It’s kind of a bragging rights thing,” she said, though she admitted that she did get some sleep during the shift.
The ZooTeen program introduced her to other volunteer opportunities, such as with 1 Matters, which is hosting its Tent City this coming weekend. Sam is collecting clothing to give to homeless people who will come to the event, and she’ll spend the weekend organizing other volunteers.
“My grandmother also volunteers at a food line on Sundays, so I’ve done that with her. After you’re done serving, you’re encouraged to go sit with them (homeless people),” she said. “A lot of times volunteering with the homeless there’s a disconnect because you don’t want to see yourself as some sort of saint. Going and interacting with these people keeps you grounded. You understand the struggle: why they’re in that situation and what their lives are like.”
Throughout high school, Sam has also been involved in acting, appearing in Bulletproof Backpack through Children’s Theatre Workshop and in A Fish Called John and Pirates! with Toledo Repertoire Theater. She portrayed Olaf in the junior high’s Frozen Jr. but missed out on playing in Matilda in high school due to the COVID-19 shutdown.
For two years, she also took dance lessons, including modern and hip hop, with Spotlight Dance Studio.
Last summer, Sam spent over three weeks visiting her mom’s family in Mexico City.
“I took many different dance classes, spent time with family members I rarely get to see, learned about my heritage and greatly improved my Spanish abilities,” she said.
While her mom, Itzel, is from Mexico City and speaks fluent Spanish, Sam said she practices her conversational Spanish with her dad, Joshua, who learned the language when he met and married Itzel.
Coming from a family that’s rooted in engineering, teaching, acting and music, Sam has a zest for all of these areas and for learning. Her sister, Sophia, a 2023 Toledo School for the Arts graduate, sings and plays guitar, ukulele and steel drum while taking classes as a freshman at The Ohio State University.
“My sister is kind of my best friend,” Sam said.
As she prepares for life after high school, Sam said she’s taking more time to hang out with friends and “putting herself out there” to meet new people and gain experiences that will help her in the future.
Sam already does minor auto and plumbing repairs at home with her dad but is taking principals of wood construction and veterinary science classes at school and studying animal husbandry outside of school.
“I want to own my own goats and chickens when I’m older, and I’d like to build my own structures for them,” she said.