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Six seniors from Columbia County celebrate their virtual graduation Wednesday

While many high school students in Columbia County got their first taste of online learning this spring — a change forced on them by the shutdown of schools in response to the COVID-19 pandemic — another group had been doing it all along.

COURTESY PHOTO: OREGON CONNECTIONS ACADEMY - Hanna Russell of Columbia City was one of six Columbia County residents who celebrated their graduation from Oregon Connections Academy on Wednesday, June 24.On Wednesday, June 24, six Columbia County residents celebrated their graduation — held virtually — from Oregon Connections Academy, the state's longest-running tuition-free online public charter school. Their graduation, part of a class of nearly 500 seniors, marked ORCA's largest-ever senior class.

Although the commencement was moved online due to social distancing requirements, the school's commencement event still included many traditional elements of a graduation ceremony.

Columbia County graduates from the class of 2020 included:

• Hanna Russell, Columbia City

• Russell Ridenour, Deer Island

• Joseph Hoffman, St. Helens

• Nicolas Brown, Scappoose

• Theresa Hay, Scappoose

• Benjamin Nikander, St. Helens

"This graduating class of 2020 seniors and their families are way-makers; finding success in a challenging time," said Matt Lacy, high school principal. "Our teachers and staff have been stalwarts, ensuring high-quality education and individualized attention to each student in an uncertain time."

This year's graduating class represents the largest in school history, a 13% increase from the Class of 2019 and a 19% jump from three years ago.

Oregon Connections Academy serves a wide variety of students throughout the state, providing an innovative and flexible learning environment for more than 4,600 pupils. For more information, visit or call 1-877-691-9921.

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