Napa high school AP computer science students

Napa High School students Julia Leonardi, Stella Wilson, Natalie Zwetsloot, Amanda Solis and Martha Villa-Fernandez talk about the projects they've worked on in their AP Computer Science Principles class. The school received an award for gender diversity in this class.  

Amanda Solis isn’t afraid of an academic challenge. Last year, the Napa High senior (who has a 4.5 GPA) took three demanding Advance Placement courses: AP World History, AP US History and AP Literature.

This year, she’s taking AP Government. She also enrolled in AP Computer Science Principles, a class taught by Kristin M. Drew.

Solis said at first she wasn’t sure about taking the AP computer science class.

“It sounded intimidating,” said Solis. “But the way Ms. Drew teaches it, it’s not intimidating at all.”

It turns out that a significant number of other young women at Napa High agree.

Napa High has received the AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award because the percentage of the women who took the AP computer science test met or exceeded the percentage of the school’s female population.

According to Drew, last May, 12 of her then 30 students took the AP Computer Science Principles exam. Seven of the 12 were female.

Only 490 out of 18,000 secondary schools worldwide earned the diversity award.

Nikki Hill, a senior at Napa High, was one of the seven who took the AP test. She signed up for the AP course “because I heard it was a good class to take to learn about coding.”

Hill said she also liked that the class also includes topics such as net neutrality, internet safety and how servers and IP addresses work.

“It’s pretty cool” that so many women from Napa High took the AP exam, she said. Especially because females composed less than half of her school-wide classmates.

“AP Computer Science is one of my favorite courses because it is introducing me to concepts and ideas that I have never been exposed to before,” said Martha Villa-Fernandez, a Napa High senior.

“This class has made me consider more seriously going to college for computer science.”

Stella Wilson signed up for the AP class because her brother had taken it.

“I found it interesting,” Wilson said. “Technology is growing in our world,” and it’s something she wants to learn more about.

With the news of this award, “maybe next year more women will take this class,” Wilson added.

Natalie Zwetsloot said the AP class interested her because her dad works in computer science.

“I grew up playing on PCs,” she said. “He’d fix the computers and I’d want to know what he was doing.”

Zwetsloot said she plans to work as a surgical nurse. But no matter what career, “it’s important to have the basic understanding of technology.”

Julia Leonardi has taken other AP classes, but not this computer science class. “I didn’t know what to expect,” she said, especially because math is not her strongest subject.

However, Leonardi has realized that “as long as you pay attention, it’s definitely something that everyone’s able to learn.” And, “I’m doing well in this class.”

Drew said she hopes more young women sign up for the AP class.

“I want to encourage females and students of diverse backgrounds” to learn these skills, she said.

Interim principal of Napa High School Frank Silva said the school encourages and supports female students “who want to challenge themselves in advanced computer classes in preparation for possible STEM majors and careers.”

“We are honored to receive this recognition and we salute all our students participating in demanding AP coursework,” said Silva.

“Our district strategic plan outlines goals specifically around student engagement and this award underscores our efforts to date and holds us to a higher standard for the future,” said Rosanna Mucetti, superintendent of the Napa Valley Unified School District.

Napa High School began offering the AP Computer Science Principles course in 2016. Currently there are 45 students enrolled in the course — 30 percent of whom are female.

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.