What are schools going to do this fall? For most parents, this is likely their number one concern as the coronavirus continues to menace Oregon. Will they open for in-person instruction? Or will they commit to remote learning and work out the kinks later? It’s not surprising that moms and dads are looking at other options. A leader in this shift is Oregon Charter Academy (ORCA), which has 15 years of online education experience and is well-equipped to help students thrive in this new reality.
“We do have the experience and tenure in virtual education. We know how to serve students right now. That’s a priceless thing at this particular moment,” said Executive Director Allison Galvin. “We’re not here because we have to be here; we’re here because we want to be here. That’s not a knock on schools that have to make the transition. I’m a mom, and my daughter goes to our local school, so I know they’re working really hard at it. But it’s a different mentality from brick-and-mortar.”
Though their name has changed—it was Oregon Connections Academy until July 1, 2020—their dedication to provide the highest-quality virtual schooling remains unwavering. With headquarters in Mill City, they are authorized by the Santiam Canyon School District, but ORCA teachers are able to reach kids across the state with the click of a button. Like any other public school, it’s tuition-free and offers many opportunities for socialization such as field trips and a prom.
“All of our students have opportunities to connect with a live human. There are live, virtual classes for every kid, every day,” Galvin said. “Teachers also hold open office hours. Do we have a football game Friday night? No. But we do have things like student government, an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program for grades 7-11, support for teen parents, and so much more.”
The K-12 curriculum meets every Oregon state requirement and is conducted via an online learning platform called Canvas. Classes are live-streamed via Zoom, and if a student has to miss a day for one reason or another, every session is recorded and easily accessed later. Galvin said this enables families to be more flexible with their schedule. “We had some students this past school year who are junior Olympic figure skaters, and their training schedule is so intense,” she said. “So, they looked at how they could get a great education, for free, and still be able to excel in these other areas of their lives.”
But more freedom does not translate to less responsibility, and Galvin advises parents and students to do thorough research and self-reflecting to make sure that ORCA is the right fit for them.
“It can sometimes be easy to think, ‘Oh I’ll get to that later.’ As in other areas of life, that often ends up not being an effective practice,” she said. “Do you have the ability to have a set schedule at home with a set workplace? Can you say, ‘When I’m sitting here at this desk, I am doing my schoolwork. When I walk away, it’s time to close it off.’ So we work with families on that type of structure.”
Teachers are hired based not only on their mastery of subjects, but also on their natural skills—personality traits that make for particularly engaging and impactful interactions. ORCA’s principles ensure that students aren’t just another face in a room of 35 other students, laying the foundation for more inclusive academic environments.
“Some of them are younger students who are high flyers, and some of them are older students who need a little more support,” Galvin said. “Students all learn at a different rate. They all have their strengths and areas in need of growth, but we can work with them more individually.”
When students graduate from ORCA, they will be prepared to succeed in a global society, proficient in relevant 21st-century skills built upon creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.
“When our school opened, it’s crazy to think that the iPhone wasn’t even invented yet.” said Galvin. “I’ll be the first to admit that we’re not right for everyone. With that said, right now everyone is doing some sort of virtual education, so that may be out the door—and we are right for everyone!”
To learn more about enrolling or participate in a virtual information session, visit oregoncharter.org.
Oregon Charter Academy
Mailing: PO Box 1129, Mill City, OR 97360
Physical: 833 NW Santiam Blvd, Mill City, OR 97360