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Online K-12 students and teachers prepare for the new school year

AMANDA RECKER PHOTOGRAPHY - Wilsonville's Recker family has enrolled the kids in Oregon Connections Academy: from left, back row, Nick Recker, junior, and Olivia Recker, sixth-grader; and front row, Madi Recker, freshman, and Avery Recker, fifth-grader.As the school year starts anew, many local students and teachers have been settling into class routines. But not every kid begins the school year figuring out school transportation and wondering where their classes are. And not every teacher is prepping a classroom for waves of K-12 learners.

Some students are staying at home, learning their own way. And some educators are teaching from home.

Still, Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA) sixth-grade teacher Brad Horton says the way he prepares for a new year is much like a teacher would at a brick-and-mortar school. He’s training and learning about the school’s new software. And he regularly meets with students and interacts with them online, says Horton, a Lake Oswego resident.

HORTON“The beginning of the year is the first opportunity to build these relationships,” Horton says.

He reaches out to each student with welcome calls before the first day of school. ORCA classes officially begin on Tuesday.

“I am able to speak with the student as well as the parents,” he says. “We talk about their goals and what they expect from me. This is one of the most exciting times of the year.”

It’s a different approach to teaching, and it seems to be working for scads of students. Oregon Connections Academy, which served more than 4,000 K-12 students in Oregon in 2014-15, is the largest tuition-free, virtual public school in the state and is part of a trend toward online learning.

More than 315,000 students in 30 states attended an online school last school year, an increase of more than 6 percent from the previous year, according to Keeping Pace with K-12 Digital Learning, a report compiled by private, Colorado-based consulting firm Evergreen Education Group.

“More students have access to more types of digital learning than ever before,” the report says. “Digital learning options are available to many students in a rapidly expanding range of forms, including online courses from multiple sources, dedicated schools built around aggressive digital instruction models and many digital learning opportunities in traditional school settings.”

Wilsonville resident Amanda Recker is taking advantage of some of these opportunities — or, her kids are. Her fifth-grader, sixth-grader, ninth-grader and 11th-grader decided public school wasn’t working for them. They’d been homeschooled before and they were interested in alternative options, so they researched them and showed their parents what they’d discovered.

They wanted to attend ORCA.

“We decided to try it out for the last semester of last year, and they loved it,” Recker says.

Her oldest child, Nicholas, says he and his siblings were stressed out at their Wilsonville-area schools before they tried online schooling. The 16-year-old says he felt he was falling behind and wasn’t willing to ask the teacher for additional help in class because he was afraid it would take away instruction time for other kids. He also didn’t like the comments his peers made about his appearance, criticizing his arms when he wore a sleeveless shirt one day.

Now, he and his family enjoy pajama Fridays and he’s able to reach his teachers more easily.

“I’m finding myself improving much more,” he says.

His sister Madison, the second-oldest Recker, says she had been having a rough time in public school, too. Now a freshman, she remembers a particularly grueling transition to middle school.

“When sixth grade started, everything got a lot more stressful,” she says. “It was a new school, and they also put me in a math class that I felt was too advanced for me. But I still stayed in the math class, and that’s when I was really stressed out because I couldn’t keep up.”

She also felt like she didn’t get to see her family much.

“Before school started, we would always spend time together because we wouldn’t see each other as much as in the summer,” she says. “It feels better just going to school at home because we get to be together. We get to feel more connected as a family because we just see each other all the time.”

Amanda Recker says her children are thriving now. As their learning coach, she says she does have a responsibility to help guide their education — something she did when she used to homeschool them.

She says ORCA makes it easier for her to keep her kids on track, sending a box of the necessary school supplies to her. It’s easier for her now. She’s home anyway, running her business, Amanda Recker Photography.

She also sees it as beneficial later in life for her children when they’re in the workforce.

“The world is turning to computers for everything,” she says. “That’s what we depend on and rely on for everything. Now our kids are prepared.”

By Jillian Daley
503-636-1281, ext. 109
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For more information on Oregon Connections Academy, visit www.connectionsacademy.com.