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Eliezer Anguiano graduated from Roseland University Prep in 2011 with a newly ignited commitment to attend college, build a career and avoid the backbreaking labor he watched his dad endure.

After a slow start in high school, Anguiano improved his grade-point average in the school's college-prep classes and earned admission to Sonoma State University. He pulled in scholarships as well.

Anguiano represented a success story in everything Roseland University Prep has offered since its opening in 2004: An opportunity to change direction academically, access to college-prep classes and support in navigating a path to high school graduation and admission to college.

Despite his bright start, Anguiano struggled academically as a freshman at SSU.

He flunked remedial math, a class with largely the same content that he studied at RUP while earning an A.

"I failed the class. I was disappointed," he said. "I feel like I wasted at least a semester in Sonoma State.

"Because of that class, this semester is not the way I wanted it to go."

He took the class this summer at Santa Rosa Junior College and got a C-minus. But the initial failing grade prevented him from enrolling in subsequent classes he needed and nearly ambushed his ability to enroll in classes this fall when the registration system didn't recognize his makeup grade.

<b>STAR test struggles</b>

Anguiano, who credits Roseland staff with supporting his emerging commitment to his education, is not alone in posting a strong academic transcript while at RUP only to struggle once in college.

Eighty-five percent of RUP juniors in 2010 were deemed unprepared for entry-level college English and 55 percent were not ready to take entry-level math.

The information comes from an optional set of questions that appear in the annual Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, program. If students show adequate proficiency, they can bypass remedial English and math classes at CSU campuses as well as at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Across Sonoma County, those rates were 71 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

At RUP, where 40 percent of students were considered English-language learners in 2010-11 and nine out of 10 students qualified for a free or reduced-price lunch, students and staff have earned national acclaim for the college-prep curriculum and graduation rates that outpace numbers countywide for Latinos.

In May, RUP was named the seventh best high school in California and 40th best in the nation, by U.S. News & World Report.

The reasons for students' woes once in college proved difficult to pinpoint and were supported largely anecdotally — economic issues, academic struggles, social adjustments. School and district officials found out only what former students were willing to tell them.

<b>Task force takes a look</b>

In 2009, the district formed a task force to investigate why RUP grads were struggling and how that can be addressed beginning as early as elementary school. An evaluation of progress will be conducted this year, said Gail Ahlas, Roseland School District superintendent.

"All of a sudden, we had these kids in college," she said. "We kept hearing about college dropouts. We had a couple of kids who had social issues, economic issues, and we thought, 'Let's get ahead of the game.' "

Grade inflation has not been deemed a culprit in students' lack of readiness, she said. "It's not something that has come up in our investigation," she said.

Since the establishment of the task force, the district has created a database with 108 alumni — about 40 percent of graduates — that tracks each student's college enrollment, Ahlas said.

Of the class of 2012, 97 percent are currently enrolled in a two- or four-year college program, according to Ahlas.

Still, Anguiano said he too hears word of his peers struggling to keep pace once in college.

"I heard that, that a lot of them struggle and I guess fail, but I think you need to want it," he said. "You need to want it and if you want something badly you are going to try and get better at it."

Ahlas said the district is altering its program to assure that students graduate prepared — and not just on paper. "Our whole attitude is there is no pointing fingers, we look at what is," she said. "What can we do to make sure our kids go the distance?"

That is one area where Roseland separates itself from other area school districts, said Carlos Ayala, dean of the school of education at Sonoma State University and a member of the Roseland charter board.

"The first year was a little problematic," Ayala said of the initial graduates who entered college. District officials "revisited their curriculum, returned to it, to get kids prepared. That is what produces success.

"When they find things that need some tweaking, they are right there to do it," he said. "They don't try to cover it up, they don't try to hide, they don't try to blame kids. They tackle it head on and move forward."

<b>A bump, not a wall</b>

A mentor program was established to link students with teachers, community leaders and others who offer guidance when the rigors and demands of college, from applications through graduation, prove daunting.

"Our kids, sometimes when they get into college and they think it's a wall, but it's really a bump," Ahlas said. "If they have somebody to talk it through with, sometimes that is all they need."

Anguiano, whose mentor is his former third-grade teacher at Sheppard Accelerated Elementary School, Jessica Peterson, said that despite early struggles, he is fully committed to earning a criminal justice degree from Sonoma State.

Growing up watching his dad come home from his construction job too exhausted to play with his kids or enjoy his down time made Anguiano set his sights on a career, not just a job.

"I didn't want to work like a dog. It's every day, you don't have rest and you can't enjoy your time with your kids," he said. "I knew that education was the key to my success."

(Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.)

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