News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Entire K-12 education completed online

Contributing writer for The Canyon Weekly

Honors graduate, Hailey Eckstein, is the only “legacy” member of the Willamette Connections Academy class of 2022.

“Willamette Connections Academy prepared me for college tremendously,” the 17-year-old said. “WillCA has helped prepare me to continue learning online in college. I’m also more independent thanks to this school. I believe that will help me in the future.”

Hailey completed her entire K-12 education attending a Connections Academy virtual public charter school, including the past two and a half years at WillCA, which operates under a charter with the Scio School District. 

She is one of more than 60 students graduating from the tuition-free, full-time online public school. To celebrate, Willamette Connections Academy is hosting an in-person commencement ceremony for graduates, family, friends and school staff in Scio. 

“Thanks for the last 13 years of learning,” Hailey said. “I’m thankful to have had the option to be a part of this great program.”

Her mom, Rozanna, functioned as her learning coach and also serves on the Willamette Connections Academy school board. 

“This program has given her an independent drive,” Rozanna Eckstein said. “She knows how to schedule and get the work she needs to get done in a timely manner. Hailey is also self-confident and knows who she is. She was never influenced by her peers in that way, she was just able to become who she is.” 

Hailey’s family decided to enroll her in Connections Academy in kindergarten after researching several school options. 

“Education is a big thing in our family and Connections Academy offered everything we wanted,” Rozanna said. 

“Hailey chose to continue her academic career at full-time online school so she could focus and found that this program worked well for her, especially since she struggles with dyslexia and anxiety.”

Rozanna Eckstein appreciated the way the online school delivered a traditional public education at home with caring teachers who know the material. 

“What we really loved about Connections Academy is that we would be able to be a part of our child’s schooling while she was getting the same public-school experience as every other kid,” she said. 

Willamette Connections Academy provides students with the support of specially trained teachers and a quality curriculum to help them gain the skills and confidence they need to thrive in a changing world, according to school officials. 

The virtual school offers students advanced classes and flexible scheduling so they can learn at their own pace as well as explore extracurricular activities provided by the school or the community.

The alternative to brick-and-mortar education worked well for Hailey, who resides in Scio with her mom and dad, Nick. 

The family lives on 60 acres of farmland that has been in her family for generations. 

“Lots of animals are running around, including my 300-pound pig named Link,” said Hailey who likes to do art projects and whose favorite academic subject is science. 

“A couple of years ago, I was very active in community theater as a set and props designer,” Eckstein said. “The flexibility of my online school has also allowed me to join in many community volunteer activities growing up, like food drives, coat drives, trash pick-up, helping with Safe Haven animal shelter, and participating in Girl Scouts.”

In addition to the pandemic and the wildfires, the family tore down their old house and built a new one on the farm property, living out of their camper during the transition. 

“The only reliable thing in Hailey’s life these past few years, besides her family, has been her online school, which has been such a blessing,” Rozanna said. 

In the fall, Eckstein plans to attend Linn-Benton Community College, majoring in Early Childhood Education.

“I hope to become a preschool teacher in the future,” she said. 

Some of her favorite free-time activities are to hang out with her friends, play online games, and take mini-vacations with her parents or grandparents, she said. 

“And I love all the wonderful teachers and staff that helped me along my journey and being able to get a great education at my own pace with help from my family,” she added. “The flexibility worked great for me in the program, because I was able to get a public-school experience while being able to enjoy my favorite hobbies or hang out with my friends and family.”

Families interested in Willamette Connections Academy are encouraged to attend an online information session to find out more about the school, ask questions and see if virtual education is the right fit for their student. To learn more about the enrollment process and view a complete list of events, visit WillametteConnectionsAcademy.com/events or call 800-382-6010.

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