Henderson twins, both valedictorians, have big college plans

Dionne Alaga, Corey Dunn and Kayla Dunn visit Massachusetts Institute of Technology after a trip to Brown University in January. (Sue Todd)Kayla DunnCorey Dunn

Kayla Dunn accepted a full-tuition scholarship from Brown University. Her twin brother, Corey Dunn, is deciding among Southern Cal, Yale University and Brown University.

Both are graduating as valedictorians of Coral Academy of Science Sandy Ridge in Henderson. Their GPAs tied for the highest among the student body, but school counselor Ismail Kocabiyik said what sets the twins apart is their character.

He called them “very mature, very respectful. They have this optimistic, almost naive, feeling of other people; they trust you and immediately after talking to them, you trust them.”

Kayla and Corey, 17, were born in Long Beach, California, and moved to Las Vegas after completing first grade. They attended Hayes and Staton elementary schools. When their family moved from Las Vegas to Henderson, the twins attended Del Webb Middle School and Coral Academy.

Neither of the twins’ parents went to college.

“I never really saw myself doing anything besides going to college because we’ve been told of the importance of going to school and getting a degree and getting a job early on,” Corey said. “It has been expected.”

Kayla applied early to Brown through a program called QuestBridge, a nonprofit organization that connects low-income youth to “leading colleges,” according to its website. Kocabiyik nominated both to apply to schools via the program.

Kayla recalled when she finally logged into her QuestBridge account to check the status of her Brown application.

“It was in sixth-period chemistry class,” Kayla said. “All my friends had been telling me to open the status, but I was putting it off just in case it wasn’t the news I wanted. When I opened it I started screaming and everyone else started screaming; there are 12 people in the class.”

Kayla said she applied to Brown as an environmental science major, but she is also interested in psychology and education. She said Brown has “an open curriculum” and she hopes to create her own major with elements of all three subjects.

Corey, who got accepted to nine colleges, said he was interested in biomedical engineering or computer science.

The twins attended the USC Bovard Scholars program for high school juniors. The program is designed to help high school students with financial need prepare for college and the application process.

The twins’ grandmother, Sue Todd, said she was thrilled when she heard about the twins’ college-application success, first from Kayla and then from Corey.

“I was so happy and proud, I was crying,” Todd said, adding, “It was amazing; they worked so hard for it their whole lives.”

Both twins said they owed their success to their mother, Dionne Alaga, and their grandmother.

Corey said he also owed his academic success to Alex Carlone, a teacher at Coral Academy, and Kayla attributes her academic success to a counselor in the USC program. Carolyn Moreno, the counselor, spoke to Kayla almost weekly and read all of her essays, then kept in touch after the program.

“She made the process easier and more realistic,” Kayla said.

Kayla started the first Red Cross club on the Coral Academy Sandy Ridge campus because “we didn’t have a club focused on volunteering and encouraging people to know what to do in emergency situations,” she said.

The group started with 25 members, Kayla said, and grew into about 80 members this school year. The group raised over $1,000 for Route 91 shooting victims.

“We’ve had other students create clubs, but you can tell it was about, ‘This is going to look great on my resume,’” Kocabiyik said. “Not for Kayla. She created it because she wanted to make a difference.”

Rachel Spacek at or . Follow on Twitter.