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When Edith Cardenas started teaching more than a decade ago at Cloverdale High School, just a handful of Latino students took her advanced Spanish class. They now make up the majority of her classroom.

As the campus becomes more diverse, school officials and teachers are making a greater push at the school to get more Latino and low-income students taking Advanced Placement courses, as well as AP and SAT exams. They also are encouraging more students to apply to four-year colleges — efforts that have earned the district special recognition by the College Board.

Cloverdale Unified was one of 130 school districts nationwide — and the only one in Sonoma County — selected for the Gaston Caperton Opportunity Honor Roll, implemented this year to celebrate districts that have made great strides to prepare traditionally underserved kids for college.

Last year, six of the 17 students, or 38 percent, from the high school who took the SAT test were Latino. In 2013, only one of the six students who took the test was Latino.

The school also saw a jump in the number of Latino students who took AP exams. Of the 53  students who took AP exams last year, more than 60  percent were Latino. In 2013, 25 of the 55  students who take the test were Latino, about 45  percent.

An increasing number of Latinos, who make up half of the 400  students on campus, are looking at attending college and taking advanced classes, Cardenas said. School staff are doing everything to encourage them, she said.

“Students know there is equal access (to the classes),” said Cardenas, who graduated from Cloverdale High in 1997. While attending school there, she said she was the only Latina in the college-level courses.

“It’s changed considerably,” she said about the demographic makeup in the AP classes, which help boost students’ grade-point averages and make them more competitive when applying to college.

On a recent morning, students gave presentations on popular vacation spots in Spanish-speaking countries, including Argentina and Spain. The class was focusing on vacation-related vocabulary that week.

Although he’s a native Spanish speaker, Omar Flores wanted to take the advanced class to perfect his reading and writing. He’s also looking forward to a seal on his diploma indicating he’s bilingual, which he’ll get after completing the program.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said the 16-year-old junior, who wants to become a video game designer.

He plans to attend Santa Rosa Junior College after high school and transfer to a four-year college in San Francisco. Flores, who will be taking AP statistics next year, hopes the advanced courses will give him a competitive edge when applying for college.

“It looks good on the transcripts,” said Jeremy Decker, superintendent of the Cloverdale Unified School District.

Students aren’t just enrolling at a greater number. They’re also excelling in the classrooms, he said. Roughly 85 percent of their students who take the AP exams pass them, Decker said.

“These are very rigorous classes,” he added.

Decker said the district is helping low-income students cover a $5 fee waiver for each exam to encourage more students to take the tests, which could earn them college credit. Staff also folded SAT preparation into the third-year English curriculum.

“It helped a lot. I did not know what I was getting myself into,” said junior Carmen Garcia, who took the newly redesigned SAT on March 5.

Garcia, 16, also is taking AP Spanish and biology this year, which she hopes will help her when applying to college. She’s looking at attending either Sonoma State or Sacramento State.

In her AP Spanish class, 60 percent of the students are Latino and nearly all come from low-income families. Several of them also are English-language learners, Principal Kirsten Sanft said.

The students aren’t just taking advance Spanish. They’re also enrolled in AP biology and statistics, Decker said.

They’ve seen so much interest that they’re looking at expanding the AP program, Sanft said. They’ll be adding an environmental science course in the coming school year and are considering a second Spanish class that’ll focus on literature, Sanft said.

“It makes me really proud of my teachers,” she said about all the gains they’ve made in underserved students in AP classes. “They’re putting in that energy to make these classes successful.”

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @eloisanews.

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