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“I truly believe what I have learned at Oregon Connections Academy is going to be a foundation for me going forward,” senior Lawrence Winowiecki said. “It helped cement a lot of ideas for me in how I see the world.”

Winowiecki, 17, from Otter Rock, is one of the 450 seniors expected to be in the Oregon Connections Academy Class of 2019. The commencement ceremony will be held June 8 at the State Fairgrounds in Salem.

A career in welding is the goal for Winowiecki after high school. He’s been accepted to Southwestern Oregon Community College in Coos Bay, starting their welding program this fall. However, the future wasn’t always as bright for this young man.

Winowiecki had a rough time in middle school according to his mother, Theresa Harper, so she homeschooled him in 8th grade. However, the family didn’t feel homeschooling was a good idea for high school, so they moved to a new community and he tried a new high school, but it was not a good experience for him.

“For a while he was pretty depressed and I was looking everywhere for ideas on how to get him to graduate high school without adding pressure on him,” Harper said. “I worked for the online section of Oregon State University, so I thought 'why not high school online too?'”

Winowicki then dropped out of high school because of because he said he felt bullied. He then began looking into Oregon Connections Academy.

“I couldn’t take the pressure... I couldn’t handle it and broke down," Winowicki said. "My mom recommended this because it let me ease back into school and didn’t force me to interact with other students right away. Oregon Connections Academy has really helped me to be a more open person and see new avenues.”

Harper said she doesn't know if her son would've stayed in school if it weren't for the online alternative. But they are both glad he made the switch.

“He’s made friends and put himself out there in ways we never expected, including taking a couple of service trips overseas with the Oregon Association of Student Councils,” Harper said.

For a young man who started out withdrawn from his peers, Winowicki is now more outgoing than a lot of teens. He says the things he will remember most about Oregon Connections Academy are the interactions he had with fellow students and the advisor involved with the school’s student government organization.

“It changed me as a person and helped me learn to be with others and work through different personalities,” Winowicki said. “I was able to plan some activities, started to remove some self-doubt, and get more confidence that my ideas were good and I could do things."

Winowicki said he now has the confidence to go to events, talk to people and he's learned valuable traits like leadership and helping others.

"I don’t think I would have I ever joined student government if this was a regular public school because of the social expectations and pressure," Winowicki said. "ORCA has given me options; I can work on my own, but there are opportunities to meet with others when I am ready.”

During his sophomore year, Winowicki was named student government treasurer, his junior year he was elected to be an 11th grade senator and this year he is the student government historian. He is also a member of Oregon Connections Academy’s National Honor Society.

Outside of school, Winowicki volunteers at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore up to 20 hours a month cleaning out stock and helping customers. He is also a caregiver for his three-year-old sister a couple hours a day while his mom is working. For fun he’s into video games and has an extensive collection of games from the popular social gaming website called Steam.

Harper has watched her son develop academically and socially, especially with time management skills.

“I think he has so much more confidence now than he did before starting at Oregon Connections Academy,” Harper said. “He got a 4.0 GPA his last term and is really proud of that. He’s headed away from home to live at college in the fall and knows he can be successful as long as he stays organized and isn’t afraid to ask questions of his teachers.

"I think the level of helpfulness of all the teachers and staff at ORCA really gave him confidence to move from wanting me to make calls or write emails in the beginning, to doing everything on his own now.”

Winowicki said ORCA has helped him prepare for his future because every year he has taken a field trip to a wide variety of colleges and fields of work.

“I’ve visited a cadaver lab, did DNA experiments and went to career fair," Winowicki said. "Recently, I started focusing on field trips closer related to my area of interest and the Sheet Metal Institute in Portland helped me get a clearer picture of the work world.”

Winowicki believes many of these opportunities wouldn’t be available at a traditional public school.

“We had a lot of great events that would not be possible with big groups,” Winowicki said. “There were many meet-and-greets as well as field trips that would also count as hands-on labs or portfolio assignments.”

Harper echoed her son’s sentiment about learning outside school walls.

“The small field trips were my favorite part and they let us, as a family, spend time together in the car traveling around Oregon to get to them!” she said.

This family endorses Oregon Connections Academy because of the experience Winowicki had with the school.

“I would recommend ORCA to any family that has a schedule or a health condition that makes it common for some weeks to be very busy to keep up with school,” Harper said. "The flexible schedule allowed Lawrence time to recover from periods of anxiety without failing assignments or classes.”

Winowicki recommends the school because he says it feels like a low-risk.

“If you start falling off, there are safety nets to catch you and help you get back on track," Winowicki said. "If you work with your teachers you can recover. In a regular school I feel like if you fall behind you just fail.”

Enrollment is now underway for Oregon Connections Academy’s 2019-20 school year. For more details about enrollment or the school call 800-382-6010 or visit OregonConnectionsAcademy.com.

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