Meet 10 Extraordinary Teenagers in the Valley
They’re the faces of the future.
- Photographed byMichael Becker
Meet 10 Valley teenagers who are excelling and accomplishing in astounding ways. From STEM to the soccer field to the stage, they are pushing themselves to remarkable levels —and we can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.
16 | Milken Community Schools
With all AP courses except Hebrew, and a 4.0 GPA, Oliver Salvaterra’s academic credentials are beyond dispute. But he is also known on the Milken campus as a guy who never gives up and who regularly demonstrates kindness and compassion.
Oliver led the Great Minds Robotics (club) team to first place in California two years in a row. The team has also won fourth and fifth place in the VEX Robotics World Championship competition in Kentucky. At one point, in the VEX IQ Challenge competition, his team’s robot broke down. Most students would have been overwhelmed by disappointment and simply walked away. Not Oliver. He calmly put the robot back together, allowing his team not only to finish, but place fourth.
He is a member of both the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) program for gifted children and Mensa, the high-IQ society.
Proudest Accomplishment: The VEX World Championships. I was thinking I’m at the vanguard of this kind of building competition and I know what I’m doing and I’m good at it.
Superpower: My ability to recognize patterns and remember things—essentially my memory—and my analytical mind.
Vision for the Future: I want to be CEO of my own biomedical engineering company.
Alexandra “Sasha” Stern
18 | Louisville High School
Sasha Stern enrolled in Latin ballroom and gymnastics classes at the age of 5 and excelled at both. But at 11, she decided to concentrate on dance. Smart move.
In 2018 Sasha was the world champion in the youth Latin ballroom category, and in 2019 she placed third in the amateur category. She also has a first-place trophy from competing in the Junior Olympic Games.
Although she practices after school some 15 to 20 hours a week, Sasha still manages to take four AP courses, has a weighted GPA of 4.5 and is a member of the National Honor Society.
When not dancing, Sasha acts as an ambassador for the RIDE Foundation’s Dance for Freedom, an organization combating human trafficking. She is also a member of Education Rocks, an organization that connects U.S. children with those in developing nations to assist with educational costs.
Superpower: My determination. I always want to prove to myself that I can do something.
Vision for the Future: My goal has always been to go into law. But I’ll always dance.
Gratitude: I feel super grateful to my mom and my coaches of the past 12 years from the Hollywood Academy of Dance—all of whom have taken a hand in raising me.
18 | Viewpoint School
Described by his counselor as “the most dynamic student of my college counseling career,” Daniel Kuelbs is a critical thinker, an athlete and a student who truly loves learning.
With a weighted GPA of 4.6, and the recipient of numerous awards and honor society inductions, Daniel is known around campus as a naturally inquisitive, positive and kindhearted guy.
He is also the principal cellist of the Conejo Valley Youth Orchestra as well as the Viewpoint School Orchestra.
Over the summers he has dived into research on deep brain stimulation as a treatment for people suffering from neurological disorders, and he is co-authoring a journal article on his findings.
Proudest Accomplishment : I’ve inspired some of the younger students who have seen me perform at Viewpoint to play cello. I love that.
Superpower : My ability to get really engaged—almost obsessed—with something. I don’t question whether I should do something, but how I can make time to thoroughly learn it.
Vision for the Future: I see myself someday as the founder/CEO of my own tech start-up, maybe in green energy.
18 | Sierra Canyon School
Christopher Kassabian’s academic credentials are impressive. He has a weighted GPA of 4.5, has been inducted into the Cum Laude Society (top 10 students in the class), and he’s the recipient of the Wesleyan Book Award, awarded by the faculty for achievement in course of study, demonstration of independent thought and creative thinking.
And then there’s his creative side. He is an accomplished photographer who likes to shoot architecture and outdoor spaces. He sells his photos from his website as works of art.
A dedicated volunteer, the senior has received the Presidential Service Award every year of high school. On Saturdays he donates his time to teach at an Armenian school, and on Sundays he works a local farmers market where proceeds go to the nonprofit One Generation.
Proudest Accomplishment: I went to Ferrahian High School until third grade and I volunteer there to help teach Armenian culture. I think it’s important to know where you come from and how you can move forward.
Superpower: Time management. Having a structure and allotting time for different things and sticking to my schedule.
Vision for the Future: I’d like to study architecture, and someday create spaces in hospitality design—hotels and restaurants.
17 | Viewpoint School
In her six years at Viewpoint School, KaiLan Mackey has won every award—not just those voted on by the faculty—but also by the students. With perfect SAT scores and early admission acceptance by Harvard, KaiLan has demonstrated focus, tenacity and drive.
Although she is known on campus for being humble and even-keeled, KaiLan is fierce when it comes to playing soccer. She is starting forward for the LA Breakers (club) team, and this past season she qualified for the ECNL Champions League National Playoffs.
At Viewpoint, KaiLan is co-captain of the girls’ varsity soccer team, which won the CIF Division Championship 2017 and Gold Coast League in both 2017 and 2018. KaiLan was the recipient of the Gold Coast League MVP award this past season.
Proudest Accomplishment: That I’ve been able to try a lot of things. I’m in the orchestra and I do AP sculpture. I’m not amazing at either but I’m proud that I’ve taken the time to try things that I enjoy doing.
Superpower: I don’t get stressed too easily. My parents have kept me grounded, which is one of the things that motivates and reassures me.
Vision for the Future: I applied to Harvard as an undecided major. I don’t see college as a way to have an interesting career. It’s more about learning how to learn—the sheer value of it.
17 | The Buckley School
Alyssa Wagner has always had a passion for knowledge. At age 4 she could read off all the countries on a map and at 6 she could recite the names of all the U.S. presidents. She started taking Mandarin in sixth grade and is now fully conversant. Not many were surprised when she was accepted for early admission at Harvard University.
But she’s more than a brainiac. At Buckley, she is editor-in-chief of the yearbook and captain of the girls’ varsity tennis team. As a doubles player she has won CIF First Team All-League for the past four years.
And she is a passionate activist. She founded and is president of Buckley’s Black Student Union and she is a student leader in Buckley’s Social Justice Symposia circuit.
In addition, Alyssa is a member of the National Charity League.
Proudest Accomplishment: Being on the yearbook staff. It has been the most transformative experience of my life—teaching me about graphic design and how to collaborate.
Superpower: Knowing which ball to drop. Author Nora Roberts once said that there are plastic and glass ones. Knowing how to distinguish them is the key to prioritization.
Vision for the Future: To be a foreign service officer for U.S. embassies—getting to see the world while also helping others.
15 | Oakwood School
Emma Blankstein has made a name for herself on Oakwood’s campus as an activist and educator.
Along with a group of other eco-minded students, she has immersed herself in improving Oakwood’s carbon footprint by working to put a long-term sustainability plan in place. The group’s proposal includes revamping the hot lunch program to create less nonrecyclable waste, eliminating single-use plastic, incentivizing ride-sharing and use of electric vehicles, and adding more native plants to offset carbon.
She is a member of the teen board at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and she has made two short films on survivors. One of them, Many Angels, was selected for the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival last year.
Emma is also a youth advisory board member for an Oakwood student-founded nonprofit called The Pad Project, advocating for accessible, affordable menstrual products around the world.
Proudest Accomplishment: The film I did with 87-year-old Holocaust survivor Dorothy Greenstein—having her know that she was able to tell her story to a wider audience and that that will exist forever.
Superpower: I go all in on everything I do. I never do something 50%.
Something Else: I don’t do social media. Instead of watching people do things, I’d rather be out in the world doing them myself.
17 | Chaminade College Preparatory
When Jater Webb was a toddler, his parents would take him out for a night out at the Hollywood Bowl with a big bag of kiddie snacks and toys. Not necessary. All Jater wanted to do was sit at the edge of his seat, fixed on the performance. At 5, he got a role in a local theater production—and was forever hooked on dancing, singing and acting.
As a member of the Chaminade Players, Jater has developed his craft to an elite level. Out of 7,000 applicants, he was named a winner of the 2020 National YoungArts Foundation honor for Excellence in Theater. He was flown to Miami for a week of master classes with theater professionals.
In 2019, he was recognized as a Jerry Herman Awards Lead Actor Finalist, and was the recipient of the National Youth Arts Award for Supporting Actor in a Musical.
In addition, Jater has recorded professionally, including providing background vocals for a recording with Katy Perry Tour. He has also sung with Musical Theater LA at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Superpower: I have a drive to get everything done and to create something true and important.
Vision for the Future: I’d like to be directing, acting, writing in New York.
Something People Don’t Know About Me: I’m an avid outdoorsman. I’ve climbed four of the tallest peaks in California and hiked Machu Picchu in Peru.
17 | Viewpoint School
An academic powerhouse, Amanda Hogan has taken 19 AP/Honors classes, 15 classes in STEM, and accelerated classes in math and English. She is also a member of three honor societies.
It’s no surprise that she feels at home in a university lab. With her calm, approachable demeanor, Amanda has done intern research programs at Johns Hopkins, Duke, the University of Pennsylvania and UC San Diego, successfully navigating advanced-level genetics, nanotechnology and biotechnology.
As captain of Viewpoint’s varsity track and cross country teams, Amanda has led her team to the CIF state finals in each sport. She is also an accomplished pianist and four-year participant in Viewpoint’s Honors String Orchestra.
Amanda’s indisputable passion, though, is gardening. She has developed her own blog, GreenGirlGrow, with a mission “to empower girls through STEM and plants.”
Superpower: My speed. When I put on my spikes, I feel absolutely unstoppable!
Hidden Talent: I’m really into watercolor painting—and it’s so relaxing.
Proudest Accomplishment: Setting up a Girls in STEM program at the Guadalupe Community Services Center in Canoga Park. It’s really awesome to see these young girls so excited about science.
17 | Los Angeles County High School for the Arts
With her mom owning Degas Dance Studio in Encino, it was natural when Savea Kagan started dancing at 7. She had no idea, however, that dance would become the driving force of her life.
The contemporary dancer (mix of jazz and ballet) and accomplished choreographer rises at 5 a.m. every morning to make the hour-and-a-half drive from her Northridge home to downtown LA to attend LACHSA. After school she trains, not arriving home until 9 p.m.
Known for her dynamic turns, sky-high extension and impressive strength and flexibility, Savea recently competed in the Youth America Grand Prix international competition, qualifying for the finals to be held in New York City in April. In the 2019 Grand Prix competition, Savea placed 1st in the contemporary dance and choreographed her performance.
She was also chosen this year as a finalist in the elite YoungArts program, traveling to Miami for a week of intensive workshops.
Proudest Accomplishment: Transitioning from student to teacher and being able to teach younger generations to dance.
Superpower: My love of connecting with people. When choreographing, I’m not thinking about myself or even the dancers. I’m thinking about the message I want people to hear.
Vision for the Future: To travel in Europe as part of a professional dance company like Nederlands Dans Theater or Body Traffic.
Plus, the owners on their secret for success.
Talk about defying odds!