As a Zoo Camp instructor, Sara Aliza Sahagon finally found her true passion—to teach.
Sara Aliza Sahagon ’24 holds down two jobs: her regular day job as a long-term substitute teacher at Kauai High School and what she defines as her “heart job,” which is taking care of her community service programs, a passion she has maintained since she was a young Chamorro in Guam.
“I wanted to become a social worker when I was younger,” says Sahagon, who will walk in the May 2025 Commencement Ceremony. “I was volunteering with Youth for Youth LIVE! Guam, which is a non-profit community-based, youth-centered, youth-driven drug prevention program for teens between the ages of 11 and 17. This is what I thought I was going to do for the rest of my life.”
Her mom, Stacey Coletta, had other plans for her daughter. Although accepted into Stanford, Coletta was restrained from attending the private research university due to tuition and board costs. Understandably, she wanted Sara and her older sister, Hanna, to move off island, and to explore and experience the world through another lens.
In her senior year at Notre Dame in Talo’fo’fo’, Sahagon applied to the University of Hawaii–Manoa and Hawaii Pacific University (HPU). Unfortunately, she admittedly missed the Chaminade University application deadline.
“I wanted to find an open world,” Sahagon says. “I wanted to meet new people who weren’t related to me. I wanted to experience new things, but I still wasn’t ready to leave the island lifestyle all behind, like my older sister did when she went to school in San Diego. So, Oahu was perfect for me.”
Accepted to HPU, Sahagon was excited to go to college … until she got there. The classrooms, she says, felt like they were closing in on her and doubts of her academic knowledge crept in, incapacitating her from thinking and constantly intimidated by her fellow classmates. It was a shock to Sahagon because she had always been at the top of her class back in Guam, earning As and merits for her work.
“I couldn’t deal with traditional college,” Sahagon says. “I felt dumber than everyone in the room, and it really brought me down. So, I dropped out after my first year.”
After bouncing from job to job, from Kate Spade to Bath & Body Works, Sahagon landed an instructor position with the Honolulu Zoo’s “Zoo Camp.” After years of searching, the 23 year old finally found her true calling. She flourished, and learned and absorbed everything she could about zoology—from the various species to their different habitats.
“I worked at the Zoo for three years until COVID hit,” Sahagon laments. “I loved teaching and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I did find another position with After-School All-Stars Hawaii, which provides school-based, after-school and summer programs for underserved communities and students. I ran my own site.”
As fruitful and satisfying as the experience was at After-School All-Stars Hawaii, constantly nagging in the back of Sahagon’s mind was college. By now, her mom—a lifetime educator and the current vice principal (Academy of Human Services) at Kauai High School—had moved to the Garden Isle, and they would frequently speak of Sahagon returning to college. Sahagon, though, was trapped in that circuitous 9-5 cycle on Oahu. She would constantly tell herself that she was going to be a teacher and no one was going to stop her—except herself.
Although Coletta initially discouraged her two daughters from becoming teachers—only because she knew how hard it is to be a teacher— having been one herself for years—she was now supporting Sara’s dream. It was now or never.
“My mom told me that if I wanted to become a teacher, now was the time because there’s a shortage of teachers every where,” Sahagon recalls. “She had one stipulation: I had to move to Kauai. She said to me, ‘You’re going to get it done and you’re going to do great things.'”
It was enough of a push to motivate Sahagon to move with her mom and stepdad. She began researching various programs and colleges, and looked into the online programs at University of Phoenix. In the end, Chaminade’s Flex option won her over.
“I chose Chaminade because it keeps spirituality at the forefront, which helps keep me grounded,” asserts Sahagon, now the head adviser of the high school’s Key Club, which focuses on community service. “I also hold the same Marianist-Catholic values. I know that everything I do has a purpose; every exam, every activity and every paper has meaning.”
Now in her second year of the Flex program, Sahagon’s Chaminade experience is the antipode of HPU. These days, it’s just her in the competition, and she feels she has “strong support” from the University’s faculty and staff. Sahagon says, with her Chaminade education, she will be well prepared to have her own classroom. She has already applied concepts that she has learned in her classes with her students. And she has learned different teaching strategies that are effective.
“I wish I had applied to Chaminade earlier,” Sahagon says. “It’s been a very positive experience and I love being a Silversword. I feel truly blessed to be able to finish my college degree at Chaminade.”