Thousands of students from across the state headed back-to-school Tuesday without boarding a yellow bus, searching the hallways to find a locker or rushing to class when the bell rings.

These students will just have to simply turn on their computers and log into the state’s leading tuition-free virtual public charter school, Oregon Connections Academy. Students enrolled in ORCA receive a high-quality public education delivered to their home.

The start of the 2017-18 school year marks the 13th year ORCA has been serving students across the state. Last year more than 4,000 students in grades K-12 enrolled in ORCA, which offers students the ability to attend school from any Internet connection.

“We are excited to start the new school year and welcome both our returning and new students,” said Allison Galvin, Oregon Connections Academy Executive Director.

“We look forward to all that this year has to offer, from helping students succeed academically with ORCA’s personalized approach to learning, to seeing students develop socially through educational field trips and other special programs,” she said.

When it comes to back-to-school season, several differences exist between online school families and those with students attending traditional brick-and-mortar schools. These include flexibility, parental involvement and learning environment.

For example, students enrolled in virtual schools can choose to wake up later in the morning, take more breaks during the day or spend extra time with family members at the breakfast table, depending on their established school day routine. Many parents with children enrolled at Oregon Connections Academy say their students are less likely to have homework because they are completing assignments throughout the day.

Flexibility is the number one reason parents are enrolling their students in full-time online public schools, according to ORCA’s 2017 Parent Satisfaction survey.

When asked what the main reasons were for considering an online school for their children, responses from parents surveyed included: 46 percent required greater flexibility; 43 percent wanted a change from their local school; 33 percent wanted a safe learning environment; and 27 percent of parents wanted to be more involved in their child’s education.

“Oregon Connections Academy continues to provide a much-needed choice for families in our state,” added Galvin.

“I’m proud of our proven track record of working to meet the learning needs of each student, connecting them with highly qualified state certified teachers, rigorous curriculum aligned to state standards and innovative online learning technology,” she said.

Students and parents alike consistently give Oregon Connections Academy high marks for the school’s variety of learning programs, helpful instructors, technology, flexibility and curriculum. In fact, the new survey shows 92 percent of parents recommend the school to other families and 95 percent of parents say their children are satisfied with the program.

Online learning is becoming more popular in the public school system across the country. Nationwide around 21 percent of public schools are offering at least one class entirely online, according to the 2015-16 Teacher and Principal Survey compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics.

In Oregon, the number of students enrolled in one of the dozen full-time virtual public schools increased by over a thousand students in recent years to nearly 10,000 students, according to the Oregon Department of Education’s latest figures.

Enrollment for the 2017-18 school year is still open, and families are encouraged to attend in-person or online information sessions to learn more about the program. Details about those sessions is available at: www.OregonConnectionsAcademy.com/Events

For more information about Oregon Connections Academy, watch the school’s overview video at www.OregonConnectionsAcademy.com or call 800-382-6010.

Laura Dillon is the outreach manager for Oregon Connections Academy and can be reached at 503-750-1764.

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Education and Arts and Entertainment Reporter

Vera Westbrook is the education, nonprofits, and arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at 541-957-4216 or by email at vwestbrook@nrtoday.com.

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