CCSA Honors Outstanding High School Seniors with Susan Steelman Bragato Scholarships

March 1, 2012

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For Immediate Release

Contact: Vicky Waters, CCSA
(415) 505-7575

SACRAMENTO, California (Mar. 1, 2012).--Today, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) awarded five outstanding college-bound charter high school seniors the prestigious Susan Steelman Bragato scholarship award. The students come from different parts of the state, and share not only a passion for volunteering in their communities, but also experience overcoming personal adversities that have strengthened their resolve to attend college.

The recipients of the 2012 Susan Steelman Bragato scholarships are:

  • Catherine Mitchell, from Guajome Park Academy (Vista, CA)
  • Jacob Gunter, from Pacific Collegiate School (Santa Cruz, CA)
  • Fernanda Velazco, from Granada Hills Charter High School (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Kiera Peltz, from Charter High School of the Arts Multimedia (Studio City, CA)
  • Sabrina Legarrea, from Grove High School (Colton, CA)

"Seldom do we see young students be so involved in their communities, and successfully thrive academically. Yet we have here an outstanding group of students giving back despite confronting personal difficulties, which is inspiring to all of us, and which truly embodies the charter school movement," said Jed Wallace, president and CEO, CCSA.

Catherine Mitchell, a senior at Guajome Park Academy, has not only won several awards and recognitions for her volunteer work, including the Presidential Volunteer Service Award for completing over 4,000 hours of community service, she also created a business called "Beauty 4 Life," which enables women in Uganda, Africa to earn a living and educate their children by selling their handmade paper-bead jewelry in the U.S. Catherine learned the value of self-sufficiency at a young age, when she was put in charge of caring for her younger siblings and finding work as a babysitter to pay for extracurricular activities. She also tutored classmates, and even taught herself to ballroom dance.

But it was not until a trip to Uganda where she witnessed hardships beyond her own backyard that she focused her energy on "Beauty 4 Life."

"The women and children in Uganda changed my life. Because of them, my business class has something significant to talk about, my friends and I spend our free time selling necklaces instead of shopping at the mall, and because of them, I know what I want to do for my life's work," said Catherine.

Further north, in Santa Cruz, Jacob Gunter learned the value of volunteerism through his life experiences. His father died after a long illness when Jacob was 14, and he focused his energy on school, where a love for computers and programming grew. But public service came calling while he was volunteering in the animal shelter where his mother works. Jacob used his passion for computers to help streamline the annual licensing requirements for pet owners. He also built his own computer several years ago, which he still uses, and has a passion for music, playing piano, bass guitar and drums.

"With its academically challenging curricula and college preparatory atmosphere, my school has ensured that my education is of top-quality, and has encouraged me to work at a consistently high level," said Jacob.

Fernanda Velazco also knows the value of her charter school. At Granada Hills Charter High, the senior has excelled on the Debate Team, and co-founded the One Voice program, which helps younger children gain confidence through learning public speaking skills. She also volunteers her time with the Tzu Chi Foundation, which helps disenfranchised communities, including at-risk students, with resources from reading to health care, and the Children's Hospital in Los Angeles.

Fernanda's goal is to become a doctor, as she has seen the difference that empathy can have on people.

"I was named after a doctor that helped my parents with my older brother, who passed away from cerebral palsy. This doctor, Fernanda Armenta, was the only one that spoke to my parents like regular people, and not like just another case," she said. "I hope to have the same impact that this doctor had on my parents to the patients I treat in the future."

At Colton's Grove High School, Sabrina Legarrea has also excelled in volunteerism. She has received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award for her work at local hospitals. She is in charge of doing computer and paperwork, as well as escorting families and/or patients through the hospital.

Sabrina grew up in a low-income neighborhood to a teenage mother who has worked throughout Sabrina's life to earn her college degree.

"I admire my mom, because I've watched her fight my whole life. I want to be able to go to college, and reach my dreams with determination and hard work," said Sabrina, who also volunteers at her church.

This year, her step-father lost his job, and the family has suffered financially. Yet Sabrina keeps a positive attitude even in adversity, as she looks toward the future.

"I am optimistic that things will improve. This is a genuine belief that is not just a mind-over-matter situation, but a true belief in better things to come," said the senior.

Sabrina plans to become a cultural anthropologist and journalist.

The Susan Steelman Bragato recipients will receive scholarships worth $1,500 each upon enrollment into a two-year or four-year college or university.

The scholarship is named in honor of Susan Steelman Bragato, the co-founder of the first charter school in California and the founder of the California Network of Educational Charters (which was renamed the California Charter Schools Association in 2003). Steelman Bragato was one of the first people to recognize the importance of building a strong network of support among charter school leaders statewide. She also organized the first California Charter Schools Conference. In honor of her unprecedented contribution to the charter school movement, the Association named this scholarship for her. Steelman Bragato died in 2005 after a battle with breast cancer.

This year's Conference theme is "You are the Charter School Movement."

About the California Charter Schools Association

The California Charter Schools Association is the membership and professional organization serving 982 charter public schools and more than 412,000 students in the state of California. The Vision of the California Charter Schools Association is to usher in a new era in public education so all students attend independent, innovative, accountable schools of choice. The Mission of the California Charter Schools Association is to influence the legislative and policy environments, leverage collective advocacy, and provide resources to support our members in developing and operating high quality, charter schools reflective of California's student population. For more information, please visit

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