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Ten Exceptional Charter School Graduates Receive Scholarships from the CA Charter Schools Association

June 28, 2024

SACRAMENTO, CA  The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) has selected ten outstanding charter high school students to receive the 2024 Susan Steelman Bragato Scholarship, a statewide award honoring charter high school graduates who have overcome adversity, given back to their communities, and are pursuing post-secondary education in the fall.

“This year’s class of Bragato Scholarship recipients is driven to make the world a better place by using the knowledge and skills they’ve acquired from their charter school experience to help others surmount any hardships in life,” said CCSA President and CEO Myrna Castrejón. “Whether pursuing careers in the mental health field or the arts, these outstanding scholars exemplify California’s charter public schools' importance in K-12 education.”

The 2024 Bragato Scholarship winners truly represent the diverse communities that charter public schools serve in California. The students’ collective academic achievement also reinforces key findings of CCSA’s 2024 Portrait of the Movement which indicate that charter public schools send more historically disadvantaged students to University of California and California State University campuses.

Each 2024 Bragato Scholarship recipient received $2,000 to defray the costs of attending their first year of college.

Susan Steelman Bragato was the co-founder of the first California charter public school and founder of the California Network of Educational Charters, the precursor to CCSA. Her legacy continues through her namesake scholarship program.

Below is a list of the winners - by region in the state - and summaries of their personal stories.

PLEASE NOTE: Media interested in interviewing recipients can email Ana Tintocalis, CCSA Sr Dir of Media Relations/Editorial Content Strategy:


Ellis Cho 
High School: Larchmont Charter (Los Angeles) 
College bound: Pepperdine University

As the child of a low-income immigrant family, Ellis and her siblings often found themselves navigating life on their own in the U.S. They also had to support their family financially. As a high school student, Ellis accepted a part-time position at a family-run daycare which changed the trajectory of her life. “I became immersed in the world of children and their minds, their behaviors, and the way they functioned. I saw myself in these kids and felt a desire to guide them through the various stages of life.” With a passion for improving the mental health and wellness of children, Ellis now plans to attend Pepperdine University to become a child psychologist to help low-income children with autism.

Hayoung Park 
High School: Granada Hills Charter (Granada Hills)
College bound: University of California, Los Angeles 

Hayoung immigrated to the U.S. with her family from Korea at the age of three. As she grew older, Hayoung became less connected to her Korean roots and made a concerted effort to change that by exposing herself to a multitude of Korean-centered opportunities like volunteering at her church as a Korean youth leader and participating in Korean essay competitions. “A lot of my experiences and lessons growing up have been rooted in learning the basics of communication … I plan to continue my exploration of communication as this interaction exists everywhere.” Hayoung will attend UCLA in the fall.

Michael Suarez-Russell
High School: Granada Hills Charter (Granada Hills) 
College bound: Pierce College 

Michael’s passion for computer science took hold of him after enrolling in a computer science class at Granada Hills Charter High School as a freshman. “I fell head over heels in love with the subject. Eager to challenge myself, I became addicted to teaching myself and programming new projects.” Michael also took meaningful steps to connect with others. He established a student club to support academically struggling peers at his school. He also formed a student club to help patients at children's hospitals. Michael will attend Pierce College in the fall. 



Flor Cruz
High School: King-Chavez Community High (San Diego) 
College bound: University of California, Santa Barbara

Flor wants to change the world, one smile at a time. After graduating from King-Chavez Community High, Flor plans to study dentistry at UC Santa Barbara so she can improve the oral health of low-income and immigrant families. Flor is the first in her family to graduate high school and attend college. Her interest in dental hygiene stems from her father's experience. He didn't have regular dental check-ups due to financial issues. His teeth were badly destroyed by his fifties. “With the aspiration to become a dental hygienist, I will advise my Hispanic community and any other communities on how to improve, manage, and have better oral health.”

Dominic Kalpakgian
High School: Classical Academy High (Escondido) 
College bound: Franciscan University of Steubenville 

Dominic is one of seven children in his family. He says he learned at a young age the importance of embracing different perspectives. Dominic plans to explore different perspectives as a college student in the fields of criminal justice, entrepreneurial business, and medicine. “I'm drawn to using my inquisitive mind to solve problems and help people … safeguarding communities from threats or disease resonates deeply as an essential, meaningful vocation.” Dominic has already started to safeguard communities at a local level. This year he volunteered to help a local nonprofit raise $125,000 to assist victims of human trafficking and at-risk children.

Aisha Sufi 
High School: Dimensions Collaborative (Escondido)
College bound: Southwestern College     

Aisha is one of 12 children in her family. Her hero and inspiration is her mother who fled Somalia as a refugee with three of Aisha’s older siblings. Despite financial issues, her mother made sure Aisha and her brothers and sisters had all the resources to attend school. As a high school graduate, Aisha plans to enroll in Southwestern College’s nursing program. “Nursing is my dream because it's where I can put my heart into action … with compassion and skill, you can touch lives in the most meaningful ways.” Aisha has already volunteered at a local hospital delivering meals to patients and assisting nurses and other staff.

Rosemarie Umipig 
High School: Sage Oak Charter Schools (Redlands) 
College Bound: UC Santa Barbara 

Born in Cebu, Philippines, Rosemaire was adopted at four years old and moved to California.  
Her dream as a child was to become a detective like Nancy Drew or Sherlock Holmes. Rosemarie plans to fulfill her dream by exploring a new kind of detective work in college: forensic accounting. “Forensic accounting combines investigation and accounting skills to analyze financial data for legal purposes … I wanted to use logical thinking and look at clues to find and fight criminals.” Rosemarie will attend UC Santa Barbara in the fall.  



Carolina Ayala 
High School: Making Waves Academy (Richmond) 
College bound: University of Southern California 
Carolina’s passion for the performing arts emerged during her freshman year when she enrolled in an acting workshop. She soon noticed that the casts of her school’s theatrical productions were not culturally or ethnically diverse. As a student of color, Carolina helped change that by auditioning for lead parts and encouraging others to do the same. She was cast in many musicals during her time at Making Waves, formed the school’s Performing & Visual Arts Club, and organized the school’s first talent show. "A performer is a part of who I am. The stage being my second home ... reflecting stories and a chance for representation is what exhilarates me to chase my dreams."Carolina will attend USC this fall and plans to explore all aspects of acting, theater, and cinema.

Janet Huang
High School: Aspire Benjamin Holt College Preparatory Academy (Stockton)
College bound: UC Berkeley

A child of Chinese immigrants, Janet says she’s often felt the pressure of being perfect. Any outward expression of feeling sad, anxious, or depressed was seen as being weak. When Janet began to struggle with mental health issues, she sought the help of a therapist despite her parents' objections. Janet now wants to change cultural attitudes about self-care and mental health within immigrant communities by becoming a psychologist. “Studying psychology will not only help me understand myself more but also help other children who are reluctant to get help. Being an Asian-American woman in this field could relieve some of the stigma.” Janet was accepted to UC Berkeley where she’ll delve into topics like behavioral and cognitive neuroscience.

Audrey Wilson 
High School: Sutter Peak Charter Academy (Yuba City)
College Bound: Brigham Young University 

When Audrey was a child, her parents say she always had crayons or colored pencils in her hands. Audrey's love for the visual arts is now the discipline she wants to explore when she attends Brigham Young University in Utah this fall. “I am actively pursuing a career that will allow me to integrate my love of the arts and creativity into the business world … I’m excited to combine my two passions, the arts and business, and make the world a more beautiful place.” Audrey is active in her church and has helped local organizations assist Afghan and Ukrainian refugees who have settled in the Sacramento region. 


About the California Charter Schools Association

The vision of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) is to build great public schools of joy and rigor that prepare all California students for success in college, career, community, and life. The mission of CCSA is to meet parent, educator, and community need for great public school options by supporting and advocating for high quality non-profit charter schools and sharing their success throughout California’s public schools. Learn more.