NEW CANAAN -- This summer the Hyde School staged a photo shoot that included Samantha Frisoli, with the plan of using her as part of the college preparatory boarding institution's promotional material.
It is a tribute to how far Frisoli, a senior from New Canaan, has battled back from a lack of self confidence and stared down personal issues, which led to being asked to leave her previous school.
Frisoli instead chose the path of self-growth, reaching her potential as a student and realizing athletic skills she never knew she possessed.
Because as Frisoli is the first to admit, any photographs two years ago might have been for a different campaign entirely, urging troubled teens, "Don't let this happen to you."
Frisoli, who was born in Stamford and attended King until midway through her freshman year, has a spunky and engaging personality, and speaks with a levelheadedness beyond her years. She also is rarely seen without a smile.
It was not long ago that the smile was a mask. Now, it is an advertisement.
"I have a new attitude," Frisoli said proudly. "That was the big thing that set me back. I used to quit at everything I ever did. Sports has played a big part of it. I like myself a lot better now."
Though she said she never really fulfilled her potential academically, Frisoli by all accounts had no serious trouble until her freshman year at King.
"She was bright, bubbly, everybody that met her smiled," said Frisoli's father, Scott, who works in the financial industry. "Then she went from wanting to be with us to not wanting to spend a minute with us. Her social calendar became paramount. There was a catastrophic change when she started her freshman year."
Frisoli -- who started school early and is now a 16-year-old senior -- at King was a 13-year-old freshman who, she said, spent most of her time with seniors four or five years older. Though she said many of those friends tried to steer her in the right direction, drinking, drugs, status and being accepted were among her priorities. Grades were not.
"I always struggled," Frisoli said. "I always felt stupid and let that define me. I'd rather not try and do badly then try and do badly."
Frisoli said she was put on academic probation and counseled extensively at King, but turned a deaf ear.
"Every day I would say I will just try harder next week," Frisoli said. "I said that every day."
Scott, who said he dealt with some of the same issues as the youngest of his three children, felt helpless.
"She was missing classes, lying, basically doing whatever it took to be popular in her mind," he said. "She was flattered and excited by how she was treated by the seniors. They thought she was cute. I didn't want her to go through what I went through. With the drugs and alcohol. I didn't want that for her."
With barely a 1.0 grade point average, Frisoli said she was asked to leave King.
"I remember it was March 3rd," Frisoli said. "They sat me down and told me I had one of the lowest GPAs in the school. I was out of control. I didn't care about anything."
Frisoli's parents sent her for three months to the True North Wilderness program in Vermont. As stated on its website: "True North provides personalized therapeutic interventions and transition support for 14-17 year old adolescents with an emphasis on assessment and family participation."
It was both the worst and best experience of Frisoli's life.
"You basically have to survive in the wilderness," Frisoli said. "You live outside, sleep in tents, cook your own food on the fire. You don't shower. I think I showered twice. You also have therapy sessions. There was a blizzard on my first day there, and I was like `OK, I get it, bring me home.' "
By the end of the program, Frisoli said she experienced a revelation.
"I was so different," she said. "I could be mad at my parents for sending me there, but I decided to change. You learn to appreciate everything. The people there didn't take crap from anyone. You stop being a brat. All the girls with me are now my best friends."
Frisoli's parents then sent her to a boarding school in West Virginia that all agreed turned out to be too restrictive.
After a search, Frisoli was sent to Hyde, located upstate in Woodstock.
"We take a holistic approach to education," said Kevin Folan, Hyde's assistant director of admissions. "It's not just math and English, but developing the entire person. A percentage of the students have personal issues. We attract kids with a lack of character and we develop character."
Folan said he has vivid memories of when Frisoli arrived two years ago.
"Sam's a pistol," Folan said. "She is sassy, she's a rebel. The first six months at Hyde she showed her rebel side, testing boundaries, testing teachers. I think Sam got used to giving people attitude and they wrote her off."
Among the many tools Frisoli used to find her path was sports. Frisoli said she very seldom played any growing up, and though like at Hyde she was required to participate at King, as with many other aspects of her life she never gave full effort.
"Before high school I never saw myself as an athlete because I was lazy and I didn't want to do it," Frisoli said. "Then I discovered I liked running my first season with soccer. I'm aggressive and that helps. Then I played lacrosse and that did not come easily. I remember I cried after my first practice because I did not get it. My coach told me to keep trying and he'd worry about the lacrosse part. I was mad because it made no sense. But it worked. And I put in extra time."
Frisoli's improvement in all parts of her life were meteoric. She was forced to repeat her freshman year at Hyde, but did so well that, except for a few courses, she was allowed to skip her sophomore year and get back on course to graduate on time. She now has a 3.7 grade point average.
Frisoli has excelled on the soccer field and found another passion: as the manager for the Hyde wrestling team.
And Tom Bragg, the girls lacrosse coach at Hyde, thought so much of Frisoli that he named her a captain as a junior.
"When she first arrived Sam was more of a pretty girl who didn't want to get her nails dirty," Bragg said. "Since being at Hyde I think she's seen the value of sports, what the camaraderie can bring her. I think the girls look up to her a lot. She sets the right example for others."
Though she overcame a concussion her first season and a torn meniscus this past year, Bragg has high expectations for Frisoli, who is being moved from defense to forward.
"She's going to do well for us," Bragg said. "She is going to be a major contributor. I think she can play at the Division III level in college. If you told me two years ago she'd be like this I would have said you were crazy."
Frisoli said she is uncertain about the role athletics will play in her post-Hyde future. She is more focused on the academic end, looking at a number of respected schools that not too long ago would have been beyond her reach.
"I couldn't be more proud of her," Scott said. "She could get into Harvard and be a brain surgeon and I couldn't be more proud."