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[caption id="attachment_31905" align="alignright" width="288" caption="Jose Flores and Amy Jones-Kerr"][/caption]

SANTA ROSA – The Roseland School District has embarked on a district-wide program to help students complete their post-high school studies and graduate with a degree.

The program, created at the conclusion of a one-year study by Roseland staff and representatives of Sonoma State University and Santa Rosa Junior College, provides a series of action plans for improving the college success rates of Roseland children, the majority of whom are English learners and economically disadvantaged.

“We had been successful in focusing our energies to graduate our students and make sure they qualified to enter college,” Gail Ahlas, superintendent of Roseland School District, said. “Our graduation rate – 95 percent – is among the very best. But we began hearing that our graduates were finding college work difficult so we decided to find out why and what we could do about it.”

“We now have a plan to help our college-bound students ‘go the distance’ and get that degree,” she said.

One of the action plans is pairing seniors at Roseland University Prep High School with a mentor who spends time each week showing the students how to navigate the bureaucracy of filling out college applications, writing personal statements and applying for scholarships and financial aid.

The mentoring program has more than 40 volunteers throughout the district from preschool teachers to administrators and each one meets with one or two high school seniors. In addition to college applications, the students are required to find and apply for two scholarships per month, said Amy Jones-Kerr, executive director of the high school.

Jose Flores in a senior at RUP. Ms. Jones Kerr is his mentor.

“At first it was just scholarship, scholarship, scholarship,” he said. “It was a little bit overwhelming.”

He said once he learned how to talk about himself and his long term goals it became easier for him to articulate and express what he needed to do to get through the work.

“I initially didn’t know about the mentoring program,” he said. “But people kept talking about it and everyone else was doing it and I was glad to have the help.”

Ms. Jones-Kerr said she thought the one-on-one was helping to put a fire under Mr. Flores and get him prepared for the next step in his education.

He wants to start at Santa Rosa Junior College then transfer—likely to study business.

The mentoring program is designed so the volunteer will follow the student through their college careers.

“In going through it all again, I remember how tedious and difficult the forms are,” she said. “Most parents have not graduated college themselves and have a difficult time navigating it all.”

Mr. Flores is just one of more than 60 seniors who are getting this kind of help on the campus.

College preparedness is a major focus at RUP and some of the programs, like the Advanced Placement classes help students get through college more quickly.

The school is expanding its Advanced Placement offerings. Students who take AP courses and pass an exam at the end of the year get college credit for their lower division credits. This is particularly useful now when most colleges and universities are cutting courses making it difficult for students to get through in a timely fashion.

“Students are requesting more AP courses,” Ms. Jones-Kerr said. “Most students, were they not here, would not have the opportunity to take these classes.”

Currently RUP offers AP U.S. History, AP Spanish and AP English. Next year AP Spanish Literature and AP European History will be added.

To offer the courses, the school has to write out course description and get approval from the state. The teachers have to go to trainings and new books and supplies have to be purchased. And it impacts numbers, said Ms. Jones Kerr.

“Depending on how many people get in those classes, it impacts the numbers on the other classes,” she said.

RUP has between 12 and 30 students per classroom.

In addition to the mentoring program and focusing on AP courses, the school is trying to get students out in the community and involved in internships, said Ms. Jones-Kerr.

Last year, Community First Credit Union hired Yesenia Garcia, who was just graduating from RUP, as an intern. Ms. Garcia served as a teller.

“She was great.  Smart, personable, even got a perfect ‘shopper score,’” said David Wiliams, spokesman for First Community.

“She left in September to attend Sonoma State,” he said. “Another candidate, Jesus Gonzalez, who we interviewed for Ms. Garcia’s position and liked very much, was employed as an assistant to our IT Manager.”

For more information, visit www.roselandsd.org.