Adding in person to online: ORCA events expand experiences

October, 2017 Posted in Community, School

Football toss game, ORCA, Fall Celebration, courtesyBy Mary Owen

Oregon Connections Academy students study online but socialize offline.

“There are many events, field trips and clubs that ORCA hosts throughout the year to provide in-person socialization opportunities for students,” said Brenda Ballinger, a third-grade teacher from Silverton. “Some of these activities are the same as the ones that students would experience in a traditional brick-and-mortar school such as student government, an in-person prom, and a graduation ceremony.”

ORCA also offers clubs and other extracurricular activities, including National Honor Society, Science Olympiads, Writer’s Guild, Debate Club, Poetry Out Loud and college tours. Around 200 field trips are planned throughout the state each school year, offering activities for all grade levels, Ballinger said.

“Our students and staff look forward to field trips and events,” she said. “Experiences go beyond the classroom and offer interactions with others and the world, which is key to optimal learning.

“Since we usually interact in a virtual environment, seeing each other in person gives a real personal connection,” she added. “The energy is high, and you can feel the excitement in the air. Students are making friends, visiting with teachers, and having a great time together.”

Recent excursions involving ORCA students and teachers have included The Oregon Garden in Silverton and the Horses of Hope equine therapy program in Turner. In October, students will travel to Bauman Farms in Gervais for a Pumpkin Patch Fall Field Trip.

ORCA also holds a Spring Celebration at Riverfront Park in Salem, as well as the all-school State Capitol Day that offers students time to meet their representatives and learn more about state government.

Ballinger said all elementary students are invited throughout the year to attend  read-aloud sessions where they can listen to stories from different genres. Students can also participate in reading contests to stay focused and reading independently, she added.

“Families often organize some of their own events and field trips, which provides more opportunity for learning experiences and can connect families that may live in the same area,” Ballinger said.

Authorized by the Santiam Canyon School District, ORCA is a tuition-free, statewide online charter school that serves students in grades K-12. For information, call 800-382-6010, or visit

ORCA’s Mill City headquarters upgrade complete

Oregon Connections Academy’s “home” just got upgraded.

“Since we opened our ‘doors’ in 2005, we have sought to provide the best education possible for our students,” said Allison Galvin, executive director of Oregon’s free virtual public school.

ORCA located in Mill City in the 2015-2016 school year, partnering with the Santiam Canyon School District.

Of the recently completed upgrades, Galvin said, “We felt it would be important to keep the original veterinary clinic, with some upgrades, since it has been a part of this wonderful community for years. We love the log cabin look and feel to this building!”

ORCA used local contractors to expand from 1,479 to 3,783 square feet.

The expansion included a new section with offices, a conference room, and a room for file storage. The upgrades allow staff to process records more efficiently and provides space for staff meetings and face-to-face time with students and families, Galvin said.

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