Gunnika and Noshi Kapoor made a trek to the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals early one chilly morning last week.

Their mission — much like the other 34 students who attended the field trip — was two-fold: to check out the museum’s vast collection of rocks, gems, minerals and fossils; and to socialize with other Oregon Connections Academy students.

OCA, Oregon’s largest public online school, has more than 3,000 students enrolled from all over the state. But learning is not all about sitting in front of a laptop. The girls do learn their lessons at home on a computer — sometimes on their own, sometimes with a teacher video-conferencing from afar — but getting out and about is a big part of their schooling.

Lisa Fratini, who has three children enrolled at OCA, has taken on the role of organizing field trips this year. She said attendance has been strong, with a record 150 students and parents turning out for a trip to the pumpkin patch in the fall.

The field trips give students in grades kindergarten through high school an opportunity to socialize.

Gunnika, a fourth-grader, and Noshi, a second-grader, live in Hillsboro. The girls have been enrolled in the online school for about a year, according to their mom, Rashmi Kapoor.

“It’s a good way of connecting,” Rashmi said of the field trip opportunities.

For Gunnika, it was the perfect opportunity to explore one of her favorite subjects.

“Gunnika is very fond of rocks,” Rashmi said.

When asked by the tour guide to name one of the three types of rock that are found on Earth, Gunnika’s hand shot up to answer.

“Metamorphic,” she said confidently. “Formed when other types of rocks are under pressure and heat.”

For Noshi, the best part of the museum was the “Rainbow Gallery” — a room where students view a collection of minerals under ultraviolet “black” lights.

The field trips are optional excursions, Fratini said. So far this school year, she’s had an average of between 20 and 40 students attend each field trip, including to New Seasons Market, the Aircraft Aviation Museum at the Hillsboro Airport and the Guide Dogs for the Blind training facility in Boring.

The Rice Museum is a popular destination for school groups of all sizes. Museum staffers estimated that approximately 140 groups tour the museum each year.

A hidden gem tucked away in a small stand of trees just north of Highway 26, the museum is a lifelong dream of amateur rock and mineral collectors Richard and Helen Rice.

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