Klamath Falls Herald and News
When Taylor Hampton told her friends she was leaving high school to enroll in a virtual school online, they said she was crazy. With a negative image of a home-schooled student in their minds, they told her she would never make it or enjoy it.
Almost a year later, now a senior at Oregon Connections Academy, Hampton, 18, has been elected as ORCA’s first-ever student body president.
ORCA is a tuition-free, virtual public charter school for students in kindergarten through 12th-grade, authorized by the Santiam Canyon School District. The Oregon based school, which has been running for 11 years, is part of the national Connections Academy program.
ORCA’s school curriculum follows state education standards and allows its students to study from anywhere with an Internet connection. For Hampton, that means the couch in her living room.
At Henley High School, Hampton wasn’t receiving the education she wanted. The curriculum was moving too slowly and the classes didn’t motivate her. She considered other schools in the Klamath Basin and homeschooling, but with college applications in the back of her mind, neither option was viable.
Hampton heard about ORCA through her aunt who encouraged her to do some research.
She was sold.
“It’s an accredited high school with a really great curriculum,” Hampton said. “A lot of colleges, including Harvard and Stanford, have already accepted students from ORCA.”
Hampton says she is happy she made the transition, especially as her teachers are on standby so if she has any issues she can call or email them to ask for help and they will respond quickly.
At Henley, Hampton says she was averaging two Bs a year. After her first semester at ORCA she was a straight A student with a 3.8 grade point average.
Hampton credits her improved grades to the more focused one-on-one time she has with her teachers and a faster-paced, engaging classroom environment.
“Things that we would cover in a week [at Henley], we were covering in a day [at ORCA],” Hampton said. “I feel challenged and I like it.”
In order to graduate from ORCA, Hampton will take the same state tests as her peers at Henley, at the same time.
Hampton says she has made the most of the opportunities ORCA has offered. In September, at the beginning of the semester, Hampton received an email about ORCA’s first student body government. Entering into her senior year, Hampton applied for the presidential position.
Up against three unknown opponents from across the state, Hampton wrote a speech with the platform of social media. Shaking, she read her speech aloud in a LiveLesson forum with the other candidates, her teachers and the students in her class, who could respond with questions.
A few days later, Hampton was offered the position. She immediately called her grandmother.
“What’s funny about that is Taylor would never have (applied for president) at Henley,” said Donna Bowman, Hampton’s grandmother.
Bowman is also Hampton’s learning coach, meaning she is responsible for submitting Hampton’s assignments and taking attendance to ensure her granddaughter participates in the school’s requirement of six hours of studying a day.
Not your brick-and-mortar school
Tristan Irvin has been teaching at ORCA for five years. As one of two student government advisers, she meets with the 22 elected leaders once a week in a LiveLesson classroom.
“As the school continues to grow, (the student body government) is a key piece of typical brick and mortar high schools we wanted to bring to ORCA,” Irvin said. “It brings the community feel to an online virtual school where we don’t see each other in the hallways on daily basis.”
Although Irvin hasn’t met Hampton in the flesh, she says she was impressed by Hampton’s work ethic and experience in both a brick and mortar school and a virtual school. Irvin wasn’t surprised Hampton won the vote for president.
Social interaction lacking
One of Hampton’s goals as president is to improve ORCA’s social scene. Considering the distance between the students, she wants to create events where they can come together and interact in person.
“We’re trying to get it so that we can have a normal school environment,” Hampton said. “Although we are doing a great job on the curriculum, there are some social aspects that kids miss out on in high school.”
Hampton is reaching out to fellow students of all ages asking them what events they want to create. Alongside the student body government, Hampton is organizing this year’s prom in Salem.
Free from some constraints
Outside of school and away from her computer, Hampton works two part-time jobs. As a member of the Klamath Basin Youth Without Borders, she is saving for the group’s trip to Thailand over Spring Break.
She still hangs out with her friends from Henley, watching scary movies, walking around downtown, and messing around with photo shoots.
Hampton says she feels more free at ORCA than she did at Henley and now she can be herself.
“There was a lot of different trends that went on with other schools and when I left [Henley], I felt a little bit relieved,” Hampton said. “I felt like I was able to be whoever I wanted to be and do the things I wanted to do, post whatever I wanted to without thinking ‘Oh, is anyone going to like it?’ At ORCA, I was so isolated, it didn’t even matter what people thought.”
Hampton is weighing her options for college. Although she wants to stay close to home, she says she is also considering colleges on the East Coast.
She says her friends come up to her now and tell her they are jealous of her and wish they had made the same decision. But, as seniors, it is too late.