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Justin Bieber with Scholastic Kid Reporter Cassandra Hsiao

Young Journalist, Gifted Student Pursues Passions 

Cassandra Hsiao, a student at Capistrano Connections Academy, pushes to make her academic and career dreams come true.

By Melanie C. Johnson

Cassandra Hsiao’s work as a journalist has taken her to art exhibits and musicals.

She has wielded her microphone on the red carpet at movie premieres and interviewed scientists and politicians.  When she isn’t working a red carpet, she’s writing historical fiction or fantasy short stories or updating her blog.

For Cassandra, it’s all in a day’s work, but what makes her accomplishments that much more remarkable is that she is 11 years old.

The sixth grader serves as a member of the Scholastic Kid Press Corps, a team of around 50 reporters ages 10 to 14 picked to cover current events, entertainment and breaking news across the nation.

When teen phenomenon Justin Beiber hit the red carpet for the premiere of his autobiographical documentary “Never Say Never,” Cassandra nudged her way in among the adult reporters to get in two questions.  She asked him how he stays balanced and if he does chores around the house, she said. The answer was yes to the latter, Cassandra said.

“When Justin came out, it was quite crazy,” she said.  “Fans held up posters that said ‘Marry me Justin.’”

The Malaysian born Walnut resident has used her reporting talents to get interviews with cast members from “Pirates of Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” craft movie reviews, and get the scoop on mummies at a California Science Center exhibit.

“It’s not just about asking questions,” she said of her interviewing style.  “I want to have a conversation.  I don’t just want to have them answer questions. I want to relate to them.”

Journalism might seem like an unusual pursuit for a sixth grader, but Cassandra is not your typical student from a traditional school.

Two years ago, her parents pulled her out of Westhoff Elementary School and enrolled her in Capistrano Connections Academy, a virtual public school for Southern California students.  The school’s independent-study program allows her to take classes at an accelerated pace, including several Gifted and Talented Education courses.  Cassandra, who will be starting seventh grade next year, is going to be taking geometry, something normally reserved for high school sophomores.

The straight-A student belongs to the school’s English and broadcasting clubs, and does several extracurricular activities including playing the flute and piano and taking tennis lessons.

Her younger brother Jeremy also is enrolled in Connections Academy.

“I can challenge myself to new heights,” said Cassandra of her school.   “I can take my studies far.”

Mom Grace Gan said she opted to take her daughter out of traditional public school because Cassandra would often finish her work faster than many of the other students and would have to wait to be able to move on to the next lesson. The teachers at Connections are young, ambitions and energetic, so Gan said she decided to go with that particular school.

Gan said the first three months proved to be an adjustment period for her and her daughter.

“Scheduling was the difficult part,” Gan said.  “Also, it was hard for her to get used to sitting down and doing her work all by herself.”

But Cassandra did adjust and now is able to work independently at her own pace and keep up with all of her other activities outside of school, Gan said.

Allyson Curtis, the middle school admissions teacher at Connections, has taught Cassandra in her literature studies class.

“She’s very successful in our school because she’s very self motivated,” Curtis said.  “She does not need a lot of direction.”

Curtis describes her class as a sort of virtual book club where a group of 15 students get together online to discuss the books they read and share presentations on an assigned topic.  Cassandra definitely stands out, Curtis said.

“She’s very articulate,” Curtis said.  “Her writing is fabulous. She’s not shy in any way. She’s a very self assured young lady.”

Cassandra is not shy about pursing all of her interests.  She has written several fictional stories. One of her works, titled “The Night Ride,” earned her a second place prize last July in a Chino Hills Library contest.  Cassandra has a writing coach, young adult novelist Jonathan Friesen.  She is working on a Peter Pan sequel from the perspective of Wendy, she said.  Cassandra also loves to draw.

“I really want to follow my passions,” she said.  “Journalism, writing, reading and drawing are all my passions.”

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