Best of State Utah Awards American Prep

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Each year Best of State Utah recognizes organizations throughout the state with awards acknowledging outstanding achievement. American Prep has been the fortunate recipient of 23 awards over the last five years. 

To learn more about Best of State Utah, click here.

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June Update

Our American Prep team was honored to attend the 2022 Best of State Gala at the Salt Palace Convention Center in May. Our staff was fortunate to be recognized with 10 Best of State Awards for outstanding achievement in special education, music education, administration, volunteer service, and teaching. We are inspired by the incredible team and programs at American Prep. 

Gala Collage Photos

Summary of our 2022 awards:

Category: Education

  • Administrator K-12 - Carolyn Sharette 
  • Teacher - High School - Craig Hollinger
  • Early Childhood Music Education - Connie McCullough 
  • Seminar Training/Education - Trina Christensen 
  • Individual Music Instruction - Trina Christensen 
  • Special Education - American Prep Special Education Program  

Category: Arts & Entertainment

  • Community Music Program - Sistema Utah
  • Musical Instruments - Sistema Utah 
  • Children's Orchestra - Sistema Utah

Category: Community Development

  • Individual Volunteer - Hannah Christensen (WV2 Senior)

A shout-out to another American Prep staff member and professional photographer, Dawn McBride. This is Dawn’s second Best of State Utah Award for Fuzzy Love Photography.  She has been featured on KSL TV and was named the #1 pet photographer in SLC by Peerspace in 2021.

In addition to being an award-winning photographer, Dawn is also an admin for our team and does terrific work every day for our American Prep community. 

Category: Visual Arts

  • Pet/Wildlife Photography: Fuzzy Love Photography - Dawn McBride




Best of State Utah results have been announced, and we are excited to share that American Prep won TEN awards in several categories. Congratulations to our incredible staff and programs for another year of outstanding performance. 

Summary of BOS Awards

Huge congratulations to all of the talented, hard-working people that make American Prep what it is. We are very grateful to work with such great human beings!
Below are more details about each American Prep award winner:

Category: Education - High School Teacher

Staff Portrait - Craig HollingerCraig Hollinger teaches health, psychology, and philosophy courses at APA Draper 3. 2022 marks his 11th year teaching at APA.  Craig in Uniform 2

Mr. Hollinger served in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman for just over 21 years, serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. He finished his final three military years providing medical care to  SEAL Team 5 out of Coronado, CA. 

The stories and ability to teach that come from Craig's experiences during his Naval career are immeasurable. Not only is he well-loved by students and parents, but he is respected and admired by colleagues as well. 

Mr. Hollinger's accomplishments are extensive and his imprint on AmericanIMG_3906 Prep is indelible. Bringing his extensive knowledge and experience to our school, Mr. Hollinger has gone on to create and design curricula for several APA programs including Science, Psychology, Philosophy, and the Health Department.


Mr. Hollinger is also a certified Stop the Bleed Instructor as well as Fight Back Nation Instructor supporting schools in training their teachers to fight back against active shooters. 

We are honored to have Mr. Hollinger at American Prep and we hope you will join us in congratulating him on his Best of State Award and thanking him for his service, and commitment to educating our students. 

Category: Education - Administrator K-12

Carolyn Headshot 2020Carolyn Sharette is the founder of American Preparatory Academy and the Executive Director of American Preparatory Schools which is now celebrating its 19th year in Utah. APA currently serves over 5,000 students at six campuses in Utah for Pre-K through 12th grade. In addition to founding the largest and most successful charter district in Utah, Mrs. Sharette continues to drive enhancements in charter education. Here are a few of the many accomplishments that have been achieved by Mrs. Sharette and her dedicated team. 

  • Classical Education - Mrs. Sharette has led American Prep in the implementation of a strong, classical academic program with an emphasis on character and leadership development.  Mrs. Sharette has brought together a team of talented leaders who share her vision of flourishing students who are prepared to live happy lives and make the world a better place.  Mrs. Sharette has shared her love of America with staff and students alike.  Under her leadership, over 6,000 people read the Constitution of the United States each year, and hundreds of veterans are provided heartfelt gratitude from APA students and staff at the annual Veterans Day Assemblies.  Mrs. Sharette believes parents should be able to choose the education that fits the needs of their children and has dedicated her career to providing parents with an excellent option in APA.  
  • Charter School Expansion - Mrs. Sharette’s work with the local government was instrumental in changing legislation to enable charter school expansion to multi-campuses. APA now serves over 5,000 students at six campuses in Utah.West Valley 1 Students
  • Supporting underserved communities - In 2009, American Prep became the first Utah charter school to intentionally serve refugees & low-income communities, with the opening of the West Valley 1 campus. Mrs. Sharette and her team wrote the first charter giving refugees priority enrollment at APA schools.
  • Providing the largest afterschool program - Mrs. Sharette's mission to serve refugees and low-income families led to the formation of our after-Carolyn - Veterans Dayschool program in West Valley City. APA now offers the largest after-school charter program in the state serving over 400 students between two sites in grades K-12. 

These are just a few of the many achievements that Mrs. Sharette has accomplished in charter education. Her work over the last 20 years has benefited thousands of students and all charter schools in Utah. We are grateful for her incredible commitment to education and our students.


Category: Community Development - Volunteer Service

Hannah Christensen is a Senior at American Preparatory Academy West Valley 2 campus. She has been a member of Sistema Utah since its onset in October 2013, when she entered the fourth grade. Hannah will graduate this year and has been accepted to Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Not only is Hannah an outstanding student and leader, she loves to volunteer her time to mentor others, build them up with kindness, and help them to succeed in any endeavor. Her goal in life is to do all that she can to brighten the lives of others through service and student mentoring. To date, she has volunteered a total of 850 hours during her high school career. 

In addition to her academic studies, student government work, and music classes, Hannah loves to do community service by providing the gift of music to others. Since 2009, Hannah has volunteered for the Utah Philharmonic Orchestra, the Intermountain Suzuki String Institute, and many other organizations. She has served as a Sistema Utah student mentor, the World Ensemble Ambassador, and published articles in the World Ensemble Newsletters. Hannah continues to contribute her talents as a musician to many organizations across Utah.

Hannah Christensen is an exemplary leader and has had significant experience in student government at American Preparatory Academy. 

  • 2016 - Member of the Jr. HOPE Squad
  • 2016-2017 - 7th Grade Ambassador General
  • 2018-2019 - 9th Grade Spirit Officer
  • 2019-2020 - 10th Grade Class Chair (President)
  • 2021-2022 - West Valley 2 Student Body President

Hannah attributes much of her success to the Sistema Utah program for helping her become a better person and musician. She encourages everyone to, “...find what they love because when you find something you really enjoy you are willing to put forth the effort.”

Please join us in congratulating Hannah Christensen for her incredible volunteer service, her outstanding work ethic, and in recognition of her Best of State Utah Award.




Category: Education - Seminar Training/Education and Individual Music Instruction

Trina Christensen is the Director of Sistema Utah, APA’s award-winning after-school program, at APA’s West Valley 2 campus. Her contributions to seminar training/education and music instruction are extensive. Mrs. Christensen has been a private music instructor for 25 years teaching both violin and viola. She continues to teach privately while supporting the largest afterschool music program in the state. 

Trina has served in many capacities for various music education and Suzuki organizations over the years. Her experience in these many roles has helped to shape her teaching style and the quality of her training. Trina has served as Public Relations Chair, Liaisons, Specialists, Directors, and more. When Trina came to American Prep in 2013, she started as a Sistema Parent Specialist and after two years, was offered the position as a Sistema Director at West Valley 2.

El Sistema USA Trina served on the El Sistema USA National Seminario Committees in 2019 and 2020. In 2021, she was selected to be the Chair of the first El Sistema USA Virtual National Symposium and Seminario. Originally set to be a national symposium, this program transitioned to an international virtual symposium serving over 550 attendees from around the world. In conjunction with the virtual symposium, Trina coordinated a virtual student seminario with over 117 students from 35 programs around the country. This seminario was a resounding success. 


Trina Christensen has provided exceedingly high-quality music education to our West Valley APA students and many musicians around the world. We are excited for the recognition of her incredible work and hope you will join us in congratulating Mrs. Christensen for her Best of State Awards in Seminar Training/Education and Individual Music Instruction.


Category: Education - Early Childhood Music Education

Connie McCullough is the Director of Sistema Utah, APA’s award-winning after-school program, at APA's West Valley 1 campus. Her contributions to early childhood education are extensive and best demonstrated through her hundreds of service hours to our school and community. 

Connie averages 54 volunteer hours in music education and community outreach each month, totaling about 650 hours total for the year. Her professional and volunteer work helps to improve APA's music programs through grant writing, fundraising, and managing grant compliance. Connie also supports our programs locally through staff training and professional development, coaching, coordinating instruments for families in need, as well as scheduling community performances along-side her counterpart, Trina Christensen, at West Valley 2. 

Connie McCullough Portrait BOS 2Connie is a fantastic music teacher and brings over 25 years of teaching experience to APA from both public and private settings. She is an advanced active Suzuki Violin Teacher and a registered teacher with the Suzuki Association of the Americas. Connie also taught orchestra in the Jordan School District for four years before becoming a program director and violin teacher for American Prep.

We are honored to have Connie McCullough share her love of music education at American Prep and in our community. Please join us in congratulating Connie on her Best of State Award for Early Childhood Music Education. 

Category: Education - Special Education

American Prep - We are honored to receive the Best of State Award for the Special Education Program category for the second year in a row. We will continue to provide the best education possible for students with special needs while eliminating the stigma consistent with traditional special education programs. 

Here are three ways that APA excels in the field of Special Education:

  1. Emotional Safety: American Prep reduces stigma and the resulting mental and emotional harm by serving our special needs students alongside their peers instead of in “pull-out” settings whenever possible. 

  2. Academic Success: American Prep’s special needs students outperform similar students academically across Utah in all grade levels and subjects tested.

  3. Exceptional Satisfaction: 99.3% of our parents are highly satisfied or satisfied with their child’s special education program. Achieving high satisfaction from the parents is critical to a charter school, and American Prep has consistently demonstrated high parental satisfaction and passionate parent support.

Emotional Safety: 92% of our special education students successfully receive their education alongside their peers in an inclusive, non-stigmatized environment. This FAR EXCEEDS the Utah state target of 58%. American Prep ensures, to the extent possible, that our special-needs students do not experience the mental and emotional harm of isolation and stigma. Our innovative model addresses a serious public health crisis in Utah - the mental well-being of our children.




Our American Prep team was honored to attend 2021 Best of State Gala at the Salt Palace Convention Center this week. Our team won several awards that are representative of the incredible work they do every day. Please join us in celebrating these moments of recognition. We are encouraged to continue this great work into the new year. 

Best of State Pictures Collage


Summary of our 2021 awards:

Category: Education

  • Special Education - American Prep - Special Education Program
  • Management/Employee Training: Trina Christensen
  • Seminar Training/Education: Trina Christensen

Category: Arts & Entertainment

  • Community Music Program - Sistema Utah
  • Musical Instruments - Sistema Utah 
Category: Sports & Recreation
  • High School Coach - Eva Peterson

A shout-out to another Best of State Utah winner this year, Dawn McBride. Dawn is an admin for our team and does terrific work every day for our American Prep community. She is an incredibly talented and creative photographer. We work with some truly gifted people. 

Category: Visual Arts

Pet/Wildlife Photography: Fuzzy Love Photography - Dawn McBride


Category of Education

Award - Special Education Program - American Prep

Best of State Utah - Special Ed

Our Special Education program was recognized in 2021 for its forward-thinking approach to teaching students with special needs. 

American Prep has demonstrated nearly 20 years of outstanding academic success and emotional health for our special needs students. At APA, we know that all children, including those with special needs, must one day "meet and navigate the real world." When students are pulled out of class, they miss critical instruction and opportunities to socialize with their peers resulting in two detrimental outcomes: stigma with resulting emotional harm and academic inequities. To avoid these outcomes, American Prep educates its special needs students alongside their peers to the maximum extent possible or in the "least restrictive environment" (LRE). Additionally, we keep our students' designations as "disabled" confidential to the greatest extent possible to reduce harmful stigma. 

For many of our founding parents, their experience was that when students are "pulled out" of their homeroom, it was evident to all the students that their peers have special needs. This distinction results in stigma and leads to severe, long-lasting emotional harm. In Utah, we see this expressed in skyrocketing levels of depression, anxiety, and suicide among Utah's youth. It is sobering to realize that adults who had an IEP as a child are 46% more likely to attempt or complete suicide. 

American Prep places the elimination of stigma for our special needs students as one of our highest priorities. Our founding parents were committed to creating a school where these distinctions were not transparent to the student body. They believed that students with IEPs could feel secure and happy--free from the stigma of being 


labeled "special needs" or "disabled". The commitment to addressing students' social-emotional and academic needs resulted in our innovative, effective "Inclusive Education" model that we offer today.

Our American Prep Special Education team serves over 540 Special Education students at five elementary, three junior high, and two high schools across six American Prep campuses.

Click here to learn more about our Inclusive Education program at APA. 



Category of Arts & Entertainment

Award - Community Music Program - Sistema Utah

Best of State Utah has recognized our Sistema program for its impact to our local community. Sistema is part of our after-school program, which is the largest after-school program in our state. Our Sistema Directors, Connie McCullough and Trina Christensen, are responsible for the music instruction of over 350 students and 30 staff members. 


Award - Musical Instruments - Sistema Utah 

Best of State Utah recognized our Sistema program for the expansive instruments that we offer through our program. Our students have access to education five days per week for three additional hours per day in addition to their regular school day. They learn various instruments like violin, viola, cello, piano, guitar, flute, trumpet, saxophone, clarinet, trombone, and bucket band. 

While many music and arts programs are being defunded in many districts and states, our Sistema music program staff find resources from our community to provide a dynamic free program for all West Valley students. 


About Sistema Utah 

Sistema Utah is a FREE after-school music program at our West Valley 1 and 2 campuses serving close to 350 low-income students in West Valley City. Our Sistema program is offered daily for 15 hours each week, offering various group instrument choices, including violin, viola, cello, piano, guitar, flute, trumpet, and more. Every student receives three classes daily, including group instrument, general music, choir, and homework help. 


Best of State Utah has recognized our Sistema program for its impact to our local community. Sistema is part of our after-school program, which is the largest after-school program in our state. Our Sistema Directors, Connie McCullough and Trina Christensen, are responsible for the music instruction of over 350 students and 30 staff members. 

About El Sistema: El Sistema began 43 years ago in a parking garage in Caracas, Venezuela, by Dr. Jose Abreu. Founded in October 2013, Sistema Utah is now the most extensive, non-profit El Sistema program in Utah and a core part of the after-school program at American Preparatory Academy. 

Click here to learn more about Sistema Utah.

Category - Sports & Recreation

Award - High School Coach - Eva Peterson

Staff Images

Best of State Utah recognized our West Valley 2 Cheerleading Coach, Eva Peterson, for her outstanding efforts at American Prep. Mrs. Peterson is a health science teacher and an experienced Cheer coach. In 2020, she inspired her cheer team to compete for the first time in State competitions. The cheer program began as a 3-week intensive course that was held in 2016, 2017, 2018. Then, after much anticipation, an official cheer team was created in 2019.

Mrs. Peterson taught that cheerleading is always about others: serving others, supporting others, and cheering on others. She also taught basic principles of committing to a team, working as a team, and being a good team player. Mrs. Peterson took a group of 35 students and transformed them into cheerleaders. The

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 students demonstrated their desire to reach for the stars and be genuinely competitive by committing to long practices, learning new skills, and trusting Mrs. Peterson. The team competed and won the 2021 2A State Cheerleading competition during one of the most challenging years in our school's history for many events, practices, and performances were canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Mrs. Peterson credits her athletes and her Assistant Coach, Rachel Neil, for overcoming the impossible.

WV2 Cheer 1st Place




Category - Arts & Entertainment > Performing Arts

Award - Community Music Program – Sistema Utah
Best of State Utah recognized APA's Sistema Utah program with the Community Music Program in both 2020 and 2021. To learn more about this award, click here.

Award - Musical Instruments – Sistema Utah
Best of State Utah recognized APA's Sistema Utah program with the Musical Instruments Award in both 2020 and 2021. To learn more about this award, click here.

Category - Education
Award - Arts in Education – Sistema Utah

Education - Management/Employee Training - Trina Christensen

Education - Early Childhood Music Education - Trina Christensen

Best of State Utah recognized APA's Sistema Utah program for providing such a profound music program for so many students in an underserved community like West Valley City.

Sistema Utah's mission is to provide musical instruction to foster lifelong qualities of refined character. We believe that music education works in tandem with academic learning and provides a positive outlet and identity for students of all ages, backgrounds, and circumstances. We strive to help children develop the highest musical proficiency possible by providing instruction through excellent teachers, mentors, and musical role models in their lives.

IMG_5949Sistema Utah is a FREE after-school music program that began in October 2013 at the American Preparatory family of schools. This program is based on the internationally successful program, El Sistema. Dedicated to the idea that music and rigorous musical study can improve participants' futures while also enhancing current academic and behavioral goals, Sistema Utah is an intense after-school immersion experience. Students learn an appreciation for music, partnership, and teamwork. They also learn how to help each other, receive feedback, and offer support. 

We serve nearly 360 students between two campuses in West Valley City, Utah. Both campuses are Title I schools, where 64% of our students receive free or reduced lunch. This program is offered free of charge to our families. Students stay for three hours a day, five days a week, for a total of 15 hours of musical instruction per week. Every student receives the following daily: group music instruction, general music class, singing class, and homework help. In addition to music instruction, we also serve each student a nutritious snack daily. We offer various instruments, including violin, viola, cello, flute, trumpet, French horn, clarinet, trombone, percussion, bucket band, piano, and guitar.

Award - Early Childhood Music Education – Trina Christensen

Best of State Utah recognized APA's Sistema Utah pTrina Christensen Award imagerogram for its dedication to teaching music to children of all ages and skill levels. Sistema consists of four performing group ensembles consisting of Sistema Strings (K-6), Secondary Orchestra Ensemble (7-12), Secondary Band Ensemble (7-12), and Secondary Sistema Strings (7-12).

IMG_1761Music instruction is often unavailable for low-income families. Sistema Utah makes music education more accessible for students of all ages by providing after-school supervision while engaging students in a setting where they can participate and be included. 
Families of Sistema Utah students can be reassured that their kids are in a safe place after school and can be confident that their children are continuing to learn and build character.

The mission of Sistema Utah is to change the world through music one student at a time, which has proven to be a worthy mission for thousands of West Valley students.

Award - Management and Employee Training- Trina Christensen

Best of State Utah recognized Sistema Utah Director Trina Christensen for her outstanding work in management and teacher training. 


Trina's comprehensive experience in music performance, theory, and instruction has helped her execute employee training and management of music programs for over two decades. 

At American Pep, Trina is responsible for hiring and training Sistema Utah teachers at her campus while maintaining compliance and licensing documents for each of them. Trina enforces safety protocols for her staff and students. She also organizes required teacher training throughout the year, providing coaching, guest speakers, and quarterly one-on-one meetings to ensure each staff member receives support. Trina coordinates fundraising campaigns, supplies, instrument donations, and volunteers from community partners and parents. 

In addition to directing our after-school music program, Trina is actively involved in the Suzuki Association of


 Utah in numerous roles, including Violin Region Chair and Association President. She has supported the

 Intermountain Suzuki String Institute for 15 years as the Director of Operations and Finance and still teaches private lessons. 

Trina partners in her Directing role with our West Valley 1 campus Director Connie McCullough, providing the most extensive after-school program offered by any public school in our state. 

Category - Education
Award - Principal - Craig Peterson
Best of State Utah recognized Craig Peterson, West Valley 2 Secondary Director, for outstanding performance in public school education.

Craig has been a leader in reaching underprivileged students and encouraging families to consider American Prep. His caring approach to student learning and discipline has helped him to earn the trust of the West Valley 2 student body while continually challenging his students to challenge themselves. Craig has also won the hearts of his staff by creating a safe and supportive environment for teachers to grow. In 2013, the West Valley 2 staff voted to award Craig the Builder of the Year Award, honoring him for supporting teachers and creating an environment for students to feel safe and engage in their work.

Craig holds a degree in Psychology from Brigham Young University and a Master of Arts degree from Central Michigan University. Craig Peterson has dedicated all that he knows to the success of the students at American Prep. He is patient and loving to all who walk through its doors.
Award - Administrator - Carolyn Sharette
Best of State Utah recognized Carolyn Sharette for the Administrator Award for her outstanding work in furthering education in Utah.

Pursuing her vision for a school where students are both challenged academically and are given the leadership skills they need to "change the world for the better", Carolyn opened American Preparatory Schools' first campus in 2003. American prep has grown to be a seven campus charter district serving over 5,000 students in Utah. 
Carolyn continues to serve as the Executive Director of American Prep, celebrating almost 20 years of educating students in Utah.
Carolyn received a B.S. is in Psychology and Nursing at Brigham Young University. She is a licensed R.N. in several states. Carolyn has served as a Consultant for various Bondholder Groups and Charter Schools from 2003 to the present. She has provided expert consulting on school operations and finances for several bondholder groups for schools that did not meet debt covenants. She has also contracted with several charter school groups to support their start-up and compliance processes.

Carolyn is the co-founder of Platte River Academy in Colorado and has served as the Executive Director of Children First Utah. This Scholarship-granting organization provides opportunities for children from low-income families. Carolyn also served as the Chairwoman for the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools (UAPCS) from 2005-2006.

Carolyn continues to advocate for school choice and legislation that supports students of all learning needs. American Preparatory Academy's success in charter school innovation and inclusive education has resulted from Carolyn Sharette's vision and commitment to providing a nurturing environment for students everywhere.
Category - Education

Award - Charter School: American Prep School for New Americans

Best of State Utah recognized American Preparatory Academy as the best charter school in 2017 for its outstanding efforts and achievements in education. 

Founded in 2003, American Prep began as an idea from a group of parents who wanted a better education for their children. This idea has grown into a seven-campus charter district serving over 5,000 students in Utah. The American Prep model continues to strengthen through the support of our community and the innovations of our staff and leadership. 

2021 marks the 18th year of the American Prep charter. American Prep 2003 Ribbon Cutting