Nine years ago, when Oregon Trail Academy opened as a kindergarten-through-fourth-grade school, few would've envisioned its eldest students would become the first class to graduate with International Baccalaureate diplomas from an expanded charter school.
The five students remaining from those fledgling OTA days — Charlee Davis, Benjamin Collins, Rogue Tiefenback, Kiah-Lynn Campbell and Devon Waldron — will graduate on June 7.
Davis, the class valedictorian, noted how every year of their academic career presented a new challenge: the school was expanding its IB program to include more courses and teach higher levels, and students were essentially walking a path only steps behind where it was being built.
"We've always referred to our class as the guinea pig class," Davis joked. "Because of that we're always on our toes. I don't feel like I've grown up because I've been around all the same people. It's very comfortable."
As a class of five, the seniors at OTA have experienced a lot together. Collins, class salutatorian, said it's the "familial ties we've created with teachers and students" he'll possibly miss the most.
"It's quite exciting (to be the first class)," Collins noted. "But I'm going to miss everyone."
"I think we all act like siblings," Campbell said.
"It's really scary to be leaving after being here for so many years with the same people," added Tiefenback.
Striking out on their own
Though in such close quarters for a large portion of their lives, the OTA seniors have all chosen separate paths for their post-high school lives:
n Collins will attend Reed College on a $58,000 recurring scholarship to study biology and chemistry in hopes of becoming a trauma surgeon.
n Campbell plans to take a gap year and save funds to enroll in a college to study science.
n Tiefenback has dreams of becoming a lawyer by studying pre-law at the University of Oregon.
n Devon will attend Mt. Hood Community College to explore which career path best suits him.
n Davis will attend Pacific University to study education.
All they have to do first is graduate in a ceremony at Timberline Lodge on June 7.
"With the trailblazing we've done, it's cool to see the end result," Collins said.
"I think it'll be a good experience to have everyone together, (families, teachers), to congratulate us," Campbell noted. "I don't think we always felt like we'd get here. (Our time at OTA) is a nice chapter to close."
Words of wisdom
OTA Director Tim Norfleet is a rather recent addition to the academy family. He said that during his first year at OTA, he's been fortunate to get to know the class of 2019 just enough to miss them when they're gone.
"I've had the chance to work with all of them, which at a normal school you don't get to do," Norfleet told The Post. "I haven't had the luxury of knowing them since (elementary school), but the time I have had has been really rewarding. We're really happy that (the seniors) have kind of already got that next step open to them and are going to be able to do what they want to do. They were really great kids to have. Their personalities were a great fit through (the process of growing the program)."
Norfleet feels confident the IB program has set the class up to be successful in their future endeavors.
"As the school was growing, the students were growing," Norfleet said. "I think they've had a really unique experience. I think it's because they get such a well-rounded education based on not only core academics, but on arts and foreign language as well, and they develop an understanding of the world and how it works. It's a rigorous program — and not for everybody — but given the preparation they've received, I think they're pretty well situated for whatever they do in the future."
Norfleet added that besides excelling academically and through community service, the class of 2019 "has been good at helping develop the underclassmen."
"They've been really good role models for our undergrad kids," he noted.
There's a lot of excitement around the halls at OTA this week, as students and staff await graduation. Norfleet said he is happy to have been chosen to lead OTA this year.
"It was exciting to be coming in with the first graduating class," he said. "With all of that excitement and hope for the future. It signals something special for the school. What kind of started as someone's dream and experiment expanded until this year. We're looking forward to the future and growing the program at the high school level. We're committed to making that successful. We've proven to the community that what was started here is worth having in the community. We want to keep growing and keep on being an excellent option for students in the community."
Next year, 15 students will be up for graduation. Davis advised those students to "persevere."
"Sometimes you're going to feel like this will never end," Davis said.
"But once they graduate, they have so many choices," Campbell added.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.