After a year of cyber learning, 13 graduates walked across a very real stage June 4 at Hillsboro Online Academy’s inaugural graduation ceremony.

The first graduating class, led by valedictorian Caroline Bingner, enjoyed many of the elements of a traditional commencement in the Peter Boscow Elementary School gym.

Linda Harrington, the new academy’s principal, said the ceremony blended the formality of a regular graduation with the students’ more casual culture.

Capped and gowned students shook hands with the superintendent as they received the same diplomas hundreds of their peers earned in brick-and-mortar classrooms. Cameras flashed and punch flowed as attendees viewed the senior projects on display.

The festivities were a culmination of months and years of planning and preparation. Most of the graduates transferred from traditional high schools or home schools for their final year, Harrington said. She explained these students were driven to the alternative format by chronic migraine headaches, social anxiety, or other compromising situations.

“For a lot of these kids, learning in a regular classroom just doesn’t work,” Harrington said.

More than 100 students enrolled in seventh-grade through 12th-grade last September — three times more than administrators expected.

Given the interest, the Hillsboro School Board plans to incorporate another grade each year, extending the program to kindergarten through 12th-grade students by 2017.

Unlike similar programs, Hillsboro Online Academy is an independent member of the school district, not a charter school or an offshoot of a traditional high school.

“The Oregon Department of Education didn’t know what to do with us,” Harrington said.

At first, some of the academy’s staff weren’t sure what to do either. Four part-time teachers, hired through the district’s union, teach core subjects of math, science, English and social studies. At least 12 associate staff members lead electives such as physical education, psychology, art and foreign languages.

“Most of our teachers had to adjust,” Harrington said. “The feel of being in the classroom is so different from being behind that wall of the computer screen.”

But students are invited to breach that wall for drop-in tutoring and personalized help at the 1947-era Peter Boscow School building at Northeast Third Avenue and Grant Street in Hillsboro.

Bingner, who transferred from a regular high school, is considering careers in nursing or education. Harrington said every graduate’s story is inspiring and memorable, and she is looking forward to celebrating with three times as many graduates next year.

“I love to watch it grow, watch it change, watch it help people,” Harrington said. “That’s why it’s here.”

Harrington added that students and parents have expressed their thanks and support throughout the year. She pointed out that some of the students might not have made it to graduation in a traditional setting, and many would have spent their $6,000 on online learning outside the district.

“The parents were so appreciative, because a lot of these kids were struggling,” Harrington said. “We gave them success.”

Go to top