MILL CITY -- A Reedsport resident has graduated from the Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA).

Emily Lichte, 18, graduated June 10 and plans to go on to continue her studies in medical school.

“Emily is very proud to be an Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA) graduate, she knows the dedication required to succeed in online school and the high academic standards that the school has,” said Teresa Lichte from Reedsport, mother and learning coach to Emily.

Emily is one of more than 450 seniors expected to be part of ORCA’s Class of 2017. Oregon Connections Academy, the state’s leading tuition-free virtual public charter school, held a commencement ceremony June 10 in the Pavilion building at the State Fairgrounds in Salem.

Next fall Emily have a full-ride academic scholarship at the University of Oregon, where she plans to major in chemistry. Thanks to the U of O’s PathwayOregon program, all of Emily’s tuition and fees are covered for the next four years. Emily has a 3.95 cumulative high school GPA at ORCA. In addition to grade-point average and financial need, one of the other eligibility qualifications for PathwayOregon is being the first in the family to attend college. Emily will be the first graduate in her family to go on to higher education. She has four younger brothers who are also enrolled at Oregon Connections Academy.

After U of O, Emily plans to continue her education in medical school.

"I chose to follow a career path in the health care field to help others around me,” said Emily. “It takes new generations using their ambition to make a difference in the medical arena we already have and I would also like to contribute to this new wave of doctors, surgeons, and others. I think that I can help improve the lives of those around me by furthering my education and contributing to science and society."

"Not only did Emily earn at least five college credits through Oregon Connections Academy’s dual credits program, but her mom Teresa thinks the online school environment prepared her daughter for college life in other ways," said Dawn Phillips, who handles public relations for the academy.

Teresa praised the ORCA.

“I believe that Oregon Connections Academy was the right choice for Emily because of its challenging curriculum, flexible hours and personalized learning plan,” said Teresa. “By attending an online school Emily has become an independent learner which I feel will help her greatly when attending college. It has taught her how to juggle her schedule while in high school, which is a skill that she will need in college to be able to successfully have a job while striving for excellence in the classroom.”

Emily agrees with her mother and believes Oregon Connections Academy also helped with character development. "When I look back on attending ORCA, the thing I appreciate most is that I learned about myself rather than just facts out of a textbook,” said Emily. “I learned how to take control of my education and to recognize when I needed help and how to reach out and use the resources I was provided. It has set me up to take responsibility for my own success or failure; a skill that will follow me throughout my college career and life."

The Lichte family especially appreciated the flexibility that Oregon Connections Academy provided Emily’s schedule, so that she was able to work at three jobs throughout high school. She was also a gifted athlete, playing on the Reedsport High School volleyball and softball teams and serving as team captain several times in both sports. Emily was named all-league first team catcher three years in a row in softball, picked up the all-league first team middle hitter award in volleyball, and during her senior year received an athlete of the year award.

While Emily fit right in when it came to athletics, Teresa knows that not everyone understands the rigorous academic schedule the online school provided her daughter. “There’s a lot of bias toward graduating from an online school, because many of her peers think that it is an easy thing to do,” said Teresa. “Throughout her schooling she has learned that it is in fact very challenging to graduate from an online school. There are no easy classes and no easy ‘A's’, every grade that she has received, she has had to work very hard for.”

Teresa Lichte made it clear that in her family school comes first. “One of the biggest and most difficult choices that a parent is faced with is deciding the right path for their children’s education. Online schooling may not the right fit for all children, but I feel it is the right one for mine,” Teresa continued. “ORCA has taught all of my students that their future is in their hands, they will be as successful as they want to be. If they work hard anything is possible, they will get out what they put in, in the classroom as well as life.”

The school serves around 4,000 students in grades K-12 across the state. This is the ninth annual graduation event for Oregon Connections Academy, which graduated 45 students in 2009 for the school’s first graduating class.

The total figures are still being tabulated for the class of 2017. However, it’s estimated that 55 percent of ORCA graduates planned to attend college, 31 percent were moving into the workforce, 8 percent chose a vocational program, 3 percent were joining the military, and 3 percent had other plans for their future. Those who had higher education on their agenda have so-far accumulated more than $630,000 in total scholarships.

Around 55 seniors in the Class of 2016 took advantage of ORCA’s College Now dual credits program and earned over 550 total credits they could transfer to any public community college or four-year university. The dual credit numbers for 2017 will be determined in a few weeks.

Enrollment is currently underway for ORCA’s 2017-2018 school year. Details about upcoming information sessions and other events including dates and locations is available online at: or by calling (800) 382–6010.

Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA) is a tuition-free, high-quality, highly accountable statewide online charter school that serves students in grades K–12. The school is authorized by the Santiam Canyon School District. All Academy students participate in the award-winning national Connections Academy program that combines high-quality resources from leading publishers with cutting-edge yet easy-to-use technology and hands-on materials. Oregon Connections Academy provides students with the flexibility to learn from anywhere there is an Internet connection and with an innovative online school curriculum that meets rigorous state education standards. The combination of Oregon-certified teachers, a proven curriculum, unique electives, technology tools, and community experiences creates a online learning opportunity for families and children who want an individualized approach to education. Oregon Connections Academy is accredited by the Northwest Accreditation Commission (NWAC), an accrediting division of AdvancED. For more information, call 800-382-6010, or visit