W. T. Sampson School was a small Jr.-Sr. High School on the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba—the only U.S. base in the world that is completely isolated from the country of its location. It is also the only DoD school located in a communist country. The base is surrounded on three sides by a fence line, minefields and guard towers. The fourth side is the Caribbean Sea. Guantanamo Bay is actually an island within an island. The total isolation certainly makes the base and its school unique.
The W.T. Sampson High was located at Chapel Hill and was referred to as the Chapel Hill School. It was part of the W.T. Sampson School until 1966 when the two schools were separated. The 1966-67 yearbook only included the high school. There were thirty seniors, twenty-five juniors, forty-five sophomores and forty freshmen enrolled. The high school had grades seven through twelve for the 1967-68 school year. The graduating class had twenty-two students.
Administrators for the school included Fernando Polo, Ethel Gross, Frank Andrews, Thomas L. Price, Carolyn Mikula, Wolfgang Plakinger, Kenneth Blackmon, Dr. Arnold Watland, Mary Ruark, Emma Siegel, W.T. Johnson, Ron Sharik, Dr. Mary Kubas-Meyer, Sandra DiQuinzio, Dale Moore, Frank Simone, Jay Gilba, Sonja Richards, Angela Mahon, Mary Lewis, Brian Perry, Shelman Burton, Emilio Garzo,
The school enrollment was between 300 and 400 students from the seventies through the early nineties. Sports teams played intramural games or base teams. A Letterman’s Club was added for males in the 1970-71 school year.
A junior high newspaper, Anchor, premiered in 1970 and the literary magazine, Spindrift was begun in the mid 1970’s. The 1973-74 yearbook provided this description of the sports program:
W. T. Sampson is the only Jr.-Sr. high school on the base. Consequently, we have no interscholastic sports competition. However, we do play intramural flag football and basketball. Students compete for the high school in intercommand tennis, golf, swimming, and volleyball. Cheerleaders, fans and students support our athletes with the fervor displayed when two stateside schools play.
Water sports are also a favorite of many Sampson students, as are such sports as bowling and track. All our sports events are played out-of-doors. In fact our school has no Indoor gymnasium because we have year-round warm weather and sunshine.
Extracurricular activities added in the seventies included Quill and Scroll, an AV club and a Chess Club. The band and choral programs were highlighted in the yearbooks. The band played at football games, pep rallies, the open house and at concerts throughout the year. The Zodiac, a rock and pop music group, was started in 1975. In 1976 an activity period was added to the schedule and girls now had intramural football and softball teams. A highlight of the 1977-78 school year was students attending the Washington Workshop and Classroom for Young Americans in Washington, D. C. Students continued to attend these programs for several years.
Originally managed by the U.S. Navy, in 1976 WT Sampson School led the way as all other overseas DoD schools were re-organized into the new, worldwide DoD educational system, the Department of Defense Dependent Schools system, DoDDS.
During the 1980’s the enrollment varied reaching almost 450 students in the 1983-84 school year. The junior high grades were consistently over 150 students. In the 1981-82 school year a chapter of the National Junior Honor Society was added and a computer club was formed the previous year. The role of supervising principal was removed in 1982. This year driver’s education, compensatory education and school psychology were added to the academic courses. There were boys’ and girls’ flag football teams and wrestling and cross-country teams started for boys. Students also participated in the Model United Nations program.
In 1984 construction was started for the new high school. The new school was opened the following year. During this school year, the program “Close Up” replaced the Washington Workshop. This program also focused on the federal government and students traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the program. A Video and NASA club were added to extracurricular choices. The following year soccer for boys was added to athletics and there was a Young Astronauts Club. Drama returned to the school in 1986 and remained an active part of the programs.
During the 1989-90 school year, students were able to attend activities at several other venues. Selected students continued to go to the nation’s capital for Close Up. The swim team attended a competition in Jamaica while the basketball teams competed in a tournament with other island schools in Bermuda. In March, six students attended the London Arts Festival. Most other sports teams were able to compete with other island schools.
For the first half of the nineties, enrollment and student activities remained constant. A Surf Club, Forensics Society and Baseball Trading Club were formed in the 1990-91 school year. That year students participated in the Knowledge Bowl, the School Wide Enrichment Program and the school had its first drill team. The next school year two students participated in Project Bold in Germany and several groups attended activities in England. The soccer team played Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico for the first time and the band traveled to Norfolk for a school exchange.
Local events in the early nineties greatly affected the student body. The 91-92 yearbook reported about world events that affected the student body.
…Last year, in November, until present, thousands of Haitians have struggled through rough waters searching for economic refuge in the United States. They were stopped by our Coast Guard ships and brought to Guantanamo Bay for refuge.
Throughout the months, our small community has become involved and, as most interaction with other people, we have made some friends…not other Americans, but our Haitian friends.
Some young Haitians who passed the screening tests to enter the United States shared some acts of friendship with our school. These young adults performed for us during our Black History Assembly and gave us a taste of their culture. In return, some of our students invited them to the high school and gave them a tour of our school. Within this “Haitian Party,” our Pirates shared their thoughts and ideas and also had a good time.
Although there are and were some conflicting opinions amongst our students, we have managed to give a few young Haitians, soon to be Americans, an idea of what “true” Americans are really about.
The school was evacuated from September 1994 to January 1996 because the base was used to house Haitian refugees. In June there were four graduates, all men. The next school year, 1996-97, sixth graders were included in the high school. Class sizes were greatly reduced. There were eleven seniors, fifteen juniors, twenty-six sophomores, twenty-two freshmen, nineteen eighth graders, thirty-two seventh graders and thirty-four sixth graders. The sixth grade was back at the elementary school for school year 1998-99. Classes remained small and sports were limited. The girls’ and boys’ basketball teams played base teams. Soccer played intramural games. The boys’ basketball traveled to the U.S. and played a team in Iowa. Model United Nations, AVID and student publications continued. The newspaper was now called The Pirate Press.
Although the school became a unit school in the 2003-04 school year, the yearbook only included the middle and high school students until 2017. For school year 2001-02, there were four bands including a jazz band. The Missoula Children’s Theatre began annual visits in 2003-04 and produced a yearly production with all grade levels. As many as fifty students were included in the performances. The school again had a tennis team and Odyssey of the Mind students raised funds to travel to Iowa for competitions.
The 2017-18 yearbook included all students in the school from Sure Start to twelfth grade. Construction was begun on a new 21st century school. The actor, Gary Sinese, attended the groundbreaking ceremonies for the new school. COVID closed the school for part of the year in 2018-19 and classes were taught virtually.
The school currently serves students from Sure Start through the 12th grade. There are approximately 250 students enrolled. The students are primarily the dependents of military and civilian families stationed at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. During the 2020-21 school year, the school enrollment was approximately 250 students.
Information from school yearbooks and the school website