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.