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Gaston student graduates online, heads to college with head start

Abby Lewis grabs diploma from Oregon Connections Academy

ABBY LEWISGaston student Abby Lewis participated in a graduation ceremony in Salem over the weekend for Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA), the free online school she credits with giving her the flexibility she needed to participate in numerous 4-H activities and dance.

Lewis, 18, enrolled in ORCA six years ago and had earned all of her high school credits a few months ago. Since then, she’s been taking classes at Portland Community College


Before starting classes at PCC recently, Lewis was nervous about going back to learning in a traditional classroom setting, but said the transition was seamless. “I quickly realized I was more than prepared for college level work,” she said. “My experience at ORCA has instilled a strong sense of independence in me. I have had to take responsibility for my education and my personal schedule.”

Lewis plans to attend Western Oregon University (WOU) in the fall and study elementary education armed with scholarships from Oregon State University Extension Service’s 4-H program and dance organizations. She’s wanted to teach elementary school for as long as she can remember, and hopes to eventually

teach fifth or sixth grade in rural Oregon.

“Completing high school at Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA) was one of the best decisions I’ve made,” said Lewis. “I was able to have a quality high school education, while also having the flexibility and freedom to spend lots of time in extracurricular activities.”

Lewis acquired 34 college credits from ORCA’s dual college credits program and another 13 from PCC, which will give her enough space in her schedule to add a minor in dance to her studies.

“Abby is a phenomenal young woman — so full of energy, determination, intelligence, ingenuity and compassion,” said ORCA teacher Stephanie Imig. “She never shies away from a challenge, be that in academics, 4-H or serving her community.”

More than 60 percent of ORCA graduates plan to go on to higher education. An additional 26 percent have decided to enter the workforce; 6 percent are planning to attend vocational training while the remaining pursue other paths such as entering the military or dedicating time to missionary work.

ORCA currently serves around 4,200 students in grades K-12 statewide. Last Saturday, June 11, marked the eighth annual graduation event for Oregon Connections Academy, which first graduated 45 students in 2008-2009. The Class of 2016 is 15 percent larger than the previous year’s graduating class.