103 bilingual RHS students earned college credits for language

For bilingual students who aspire to earn a college degree, taking a test can mean free college credits

Breaking down barriers to college success for more than 15 years, Reading High School has been encouraging students who are proficient in more than one language to participate in the College Level Examination Program. CLEP is a program of the College Board, the well-known organization that administers the SAT and AP exams.

Students who demonstrate high-level proficiency in Spanish, French or German can apply that knowledge and test out of college-level world language courses.

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A passing score earns equivalent college credits at no cost to the student. With many bilingual students in the Reading School District, the program has proven popular. The partnership between Reading and CLEP began in 2007, with just two students enrolled.

This year, 103 students passed the spring examinations and earned a combined 1,122 college credits. Reading Area Community College currently charges $197 per credit, which means the 102 Reading students have saved a combined $221,034.

Daniel Cortes, Esq. is one of the first Reading High School graduates to earn college credits through CLEP. A 2008 Reading graduate, Cortes is now a practicing immigration rights attorney in Berks County.

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“For me, it was very life-changing because I was able to graduate from Kutztown University in three years as opposed to four years. I enrolled in Kutztown with a semester full of credits because of the CLEP and because of the Benjamin R Wiley program” said Cortes.

Photo courtesy of Reading School District.

“I then took the maximum number of credits each semester and I was able to graduate in three years. This was important for me because I didn’t have access to financial aid and I was paying partly out-of-pocket for my second and third years. I received some private scholarships through the Berks County Community Foundation and through Reading High’s Scholarships, so saving a semester was very helpful.”

The cost savings alone is a huge benefit for students, but the benefits go beyond dollars saved. Cortes goes on to share that valuing the unique cultures and skills of each student is a powerful tool in supporting their future goals.

Cortes added, “​​for undocumented students, the impact is very real, the money savings is very real, and the emotional and psychological uplift is so real. To be valued in an area that was so close to my identity and culture gave me a sense of belonging. To be reassured that my ability to speak Spanish was not something shameful or embarrassing was an acknowledgment of the richness and potential I had as an immigrant. This program is more than giving students credits for school, it is a way to psychologically empower bilingual students to achieve a higher sense of self-worth and place in society.”

Photo courtesy of Reading School District.

“This is an investment in their higher education,” shares Waldo Alvarado, Principal at Reading High School. “Bilingual fluency is an asset and a plus. Employers are looking for more bilingual professionals in every career. If you are thinking about going to college, taking the CLEP exam will save you time and money. My own children took the CLEP exam and earned college credits for their language. My advice to students: take the CLEP and give yourself a scholarship. ”

RACC is a valued community partner supporting the CLEP program. RACC not only proctors the examination for students but waives the proctoring fees, provides tours and college orientation and extends a genuinely warm introduction to each and every student.

In the past, Reading has partnered with other organizations such as Centro Hispano, Latina Gathering, and Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.

Reading has seen a 100% success rate since the program’s inception, and in 2021, Reading School District earned a first-place Magna Award for the program. The Magna Awards are sponsored by the National School Boards Association and the American School Board Journal. Reading School District continues to find ways to break down barriers to success and help students reach their goals.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today for a plethora of reasons, the CLEP program was one of those reasons,” Cortes shares. On April 4, 2022, Reading High School hosted a celebration for the 103 students who passed the spring CLEP examinations and honor their achievements alongside their families.

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Berks Weekly
Berks Weekly
Berks Weekly is an independent and locally owned digital newspaper covering the City of Reading and Berks County. Subscribe today: berksweekly.com/subscribe
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