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COOS COUNTY — Students with Oregon Connection Academy saw firsthand what happens after a tree gets cut down.

Twelve students from Coos and Douglas counties took a tour of the Roseburg Forest Products facility in North Bend on Thursday. The trip is one of at least six taken every year to different locations, an activity encouraged by ORCA, one of the state’s leading public online schools.

It was one of ORCA’s math teachers from Reedsport who came up with the idea to spend one of these trips at a forest products plant.

“The goal for these trips is to make it not only educational, but as socially appealing as possible since they are online students and this is one of the few times they get together with others from their area,” said Paula Leifer, fellow high school math teacher who has worked at ORCA for 10 years. “This trip was to give students a chance to see behind the scenes for what goes on after a tree gets chopped down, to give an education behind the business, how the factory works and gear questions to what kind of an education students would need to enter this workforce.”

Popularity with online schools like with ORCA, as well as Oregon Virtual Academy, have grown in recent years. Leifer attributed this to two main reasons.

The first was safety.

“An online school is another alternative and it’s because a lot of our bricks and mortar schools aren’t meeting goals of various family and student needs,” Leifer explained. “Bullying in student environments have pushed families online. A lot of these students needed a safer feel to their education.”

The second reason is potentially due to increasing awareness.

“A lot of our families five years ago didn’t know we existed,” she said.

What many may not know is that though ORCA is an online school, it is still a public school with teachers who are all public school certified with Oregon teaching licenses.

“But students are home to get education,” Leifer said. “They still do state exams and meet state requirements, just from their computer.”

Which is also why it is so important to get students out on field trips. In fact, it is a priority.

“The online community is a community in and of itself,” she said. “One of the things that is great with the online aspect is that students can communicate with a peer that is 300 miles away as if they were in a classroom together. Getting them out into their own community allows them to see other students near where they live.”

It also gives students a sense of “not being alone but instead part of a social community which can sometimes be missing from an online education.”

Of the Thursday field trip, Leifer reported that students had most of their questions at the end about how fast the machine loads wood chips onto the ships while parents in attendance asked how it worked shipping products to Japan to make paper.

“It went excellent,” she said. “It was a wonderful opportunity.”

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.