USC Hybrid High senior receives full scholarship to Ivy League school

Juan Castro is among the many “firsts” who will graduate this spring

By Mike Branom

As USC Hybrid High prepares to graduate its inaugural class, the “first-ever” superlatives soon will start piling up—and Juan Castro has earned a memorable one: first Ivy League scholarship.

USC Hybrid High senior Juan Castro

USC Hybrid High senior Juan Castro

The University of Pennsylvania made its offer in December to Castro, and it was accepted immediately by the math whiz from Watts who wants to study physics and philosophy.

The scholarship is a tremendous milestone for Hybrid High, the charter school established by USC Rossier four years ago and managed by Ednovate Inc. Dean Karen Symms Gallagher chairs Ednovate’s board.

In its first year sending graduates off to colleges, it has placed a student in one of the nation’s best institutions for higher learning—and on a full ride no less. But Castro prefers to think of his accomplishment as part of a greater achievement.

“It’s an honor to be part of the first graduating class,” Castro said.

Even if Castro is modest, his peers know just how big this is for him.

“I know he’s going to be just incredible there,” said a fellow senior and friend who noticed that Juan is not taking it easy and continues to work hard every day.

A True Passion for Knowledge

Hybrid High’s college counselor, Takirah Crenshaw, said Castro will do both his current and future schools proud: “Juan’s work ethic is incredible. He has a true passion for knowledge; he just likes to learn new and challenging things and, in my opinion, that is what makes him the most ideal scholar.”

Getting Castro into Penn was the payoff at the end of a long chain of events, such as finding mutual interests between the student and the school.

“Penn has a great physics program—they are smaller than MIT but receive the same amount of funding. During the time that I had the students researching colleges, Juan found this out so Penn was added to his prospective college list,” Crenshaw said.” Juan has a lot of interests; physics and philosophy are the two biggest academic ones right now, and Penn offered the opportunity to pursue both.”

Then came the application. Castro tackled his essay by devoting to it all of his considerable brainpower. He told his story about how growing up in environments without many educational resources didn’t dull his passion for math and science, nor his desire to study theoretical physics. Also, he praised Penn’s commitment to an interdisciplinary approach that creates well-rounded graduates.

Penn was among a handful of top tier universities to which he applied: MIT, Princeton, Stanford, Colby and Williams along with state schools Cal Poly, Cal, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz.

When the day came for Castro to learn online whether he had been accepted to Penn, he decided he owed it to Crenshaw to have her there too. (“Pretty awesome,” she said.)

After logging in, the suspense built as Castro flipped through page after page to get to the news. Finally…

“They had a little animation flashing ‘Congratulations,’” Castro recalled. “As soon as I saw a little bit of color, I knew it.”

Castro was stunned into silence, but Crenshaw said she might have made up for that by screaming with joy.

Only later could Castro explain why he was speechless. “The reason I wasn’t able to react is because I knew my life was just beginning.”

Castro has yet to see the Penn campus, and won’t until he arrives before the 2016–17 school year starts, but he has heard many great things about the culture there.

“Socialization is very important; there’s a lot of community,” Castro said. “And I think that’s going to help me a lot.”