Evelyn Sisk wasn’t sure she would ever attend her own high school graduation.
Or even graduate at all, Sisk said.
“I was never good at going to school in the first place. I had to sit still for eight hours. And I have severe ADHD.
This low attention span and hyperactivity made school unattractive, though Sisk didn’t struggle with the work itself, earning A’s and B’s on the report cards.
“I would end up attending about three out of five days a week,” she said, recalling that during a two-year stint at a private school, she had 40 absences in one school year.
But there Sisk was on Wednesday, June 8, taking a step to accept her diploma at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds as she and other seniors attended the Walla Walla Online graduation.
The program is a component of Walla Walla Public Schools, and 2022 is the first year Walla Walla Online has introduced a full-fledged traditional degree, Principal Amy Ford said.
Eighteen students graduated from the program this year, marching under an arch of balloons in a procession, wearing navy blue robes and caps during the evening ceremony.
Walla Walla Online was created by the Walla Walla School District at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. To reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus at the time, children could not attend classes inside classrooms. buildings.
Essentially, the whole world went online. And when Washington state schools were finally allowed to open and stay that way, some students and their families came to realize that remote learning was best for them.
“Walla Walla Online was created out of necessity to support many students and families during the height of the pandemic,” WWPS Superintendent Wade Smith said last week.
“However, it has proven to be an incredible asset and medium that continues to serve dozens of students and their families who want an alternative to the traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ school.”
The online program provides learning flexibility for students who work during the day and meets the needs of home-schooled families who want to enroll in specific courses, Smith said, adding that Walla Walla Online features courses and learning experiences not available on traditional campuses.
It also has something really special for students, elementary through high school, Ford said. “Support teachers.”
As in, real humans in a real office where students can come for personalized help and a friendly face.
“Our teachers are here on site, elementary and sixth through 12th grade,” she said, and staff meet about every six weeks for professional development sessions.
“They are all there to support us and collaborate. Because our office is so small, we really are like a small family… You get to know each other well.
Most of the online students came from Walla Walla High School, and 49 of them continue to be involved in some way with traditional high school, Ford said, whether taking a course or participating in extracurricular activities, such as sports.
Middle schoolers do the same, going to Pioneer or Garrison college for these, depending on their school of origin.
Not everything about online school is virtual. One of the conditions of registration is the weekly two-way contact between the teacher, the student and their families. This greatly increases accountability, especially for students who benefit from a little extra supervision, Ford said.
And, she can’t lie, meeting students in person is an added benefit for her staff, Ford said with a laugh.
“Teachers love to see the children. They are spoiled when they are here…and we have snacks.
Seriously, though, Ford said she can’t say enough about the relationships her educators have had with their classes through these regular check-ins.
“They can support them in a way that might otherwise be difficult in a classroom setting.”
Sisk knew her grades had never been the problem, but it took the Walla Walla Online team to show her that she wasn’t his own worst enemy.
“As soon as I started doing online school, I realized I was a good boy and I’m smart. I realized I could work a few hours, walk away and go. I need the school to work around me, not me to work around it.
That’s how Sisk makes life, it turns out.
“I’ve been working since I was 15, doing odd jobs, working in restaurants, in an ice cream shop,” she said.
Lately, she’s been working three jobs, in addition to finishing high school – a tough job by any standard, but great for her brain function.
“When I get home at 5 a.m. or even later, it’s time for me to do my homework. Sometimes it’s at 11 o’clock.
She could never handle all of this without the Walla Walla Online staff foundation, Sisk said.
“The teachers are so much more welcoming, so much more understanding. I enjoyed it so much that there was no stress or pressure. They were like, ‘Oh, hey, do you need help? Enter today and we will fix this problem. It was about meeting my needs. »
Joelle Cantu also graduated from Walla Walla Online last week, walking across the stage barefoot and wearing a medical mask that covered a big smile.
The youngest of nine siblings, Cantu has been cheered on by a large group of fans who bond with her.
This mask was helping Cantu protect her family members from COVID-19, she said, some of whom are medically fragile and for which she is being very careful.
Distance learning has also helped her meet this need, including adding a layer of protection for residents of the Washington Odd Fellows home retirement community.
Cantu has worked there part-time as a kitchen helper for the past six months, thanks to the flexibility of online learning.
She had long planned to start a job after high school, but realized the structure of a work schedule would help her stay on track with her schoolwork, she said.
During forced virtual education, Cantu found that her learning abilities improved, unaltered by social pressure or fears.
Free to succeed
“I’ve never felt so confident, to not be embarrassed to ask a teacher or just ask anything. In Wa-Hi, I was always very shy and scared because of bullying in public schools. But Walla Walla Online, they support you. I haven’t had teachers like that in years.
Her parents could also see the changes, the new graduate said.
“I was a bit of a troubled kid, so I did some stupid things. I also thought that I really wouldn’t graduate. But these online teachers really inspired me. They were like, ‘You know you’re not the only one having a hard time. You can do it. You can beat him.
Both Sisk and Cantu plan to move forward with their art. Cantu has been drawing for years and wants to apprentice with a tattoo artist to learn the skills to transfer his vision from paper to skin.
Sisk, who learned to sew from YouTube, expects to move to Seattle and apprentice with a tailor and progress to professional seamstress level.
The two young women said they could take these steps after learning about independent studies through Walla Walla Online.
Freed from the “restrictive curriculum” of a traditional classroom, she was able to see the value of hands-on work and thinking for herself, Sisk said.
“How to learn on your own…how to do things on your own…I think that’s the biggest concern of a career.”