by Jessica Stahl
A group of parents working in partnership with the Orcas Island School District created the Orcas Alternative for Student-Initiated Studies in 2001. Known as OASIS, it is now serviing 400 K-12 students across Washington state. It allows each student to develop a unique study plan, while also maintaining weekly contact with a certified teacher.
On Saturday, June 8, nine new high school graduates emerged from OASIS in a ceremony at Benson Hall that honored the work and dedication of students and teachers alike.
Of the nine, five were able to be in attendance for graduation with two from Orcas. The graduates were Jaden Castelluccio, Aleyda Erickson (Orcas), Ella Daisy Foucault, Amanda Johnson, Chiara Johnson, Aiden McGregor (Orcas), Avery Scharwat, Dustin Scharwat and Kurstin Watland.
OASIS Principal Becky Bell opened the ceremony with a reinvention of the OASIS acronym, telling the graduates they were each “Outstanding Achievers, Successful, Independent, and Sensational.” As each successive teacher spoke to their students, admiration, respect and dedication were key themes. Commencement Speaker Patricia Slabaugh, a teacher of 20 years who spent nine years with OASIS, is retiring this year. Slabaugh acknowledged both she and the graduates are heading into the unknown, telling the students, “We hand you an imperfect world, but a perfect world in which to learn and grown.”
Lead high school teachers Bob Dash and Jill Sherman gave speeches crediting their students with a wide array of skills and interests, including violin, computer programming, Eagle Scouts, ballet, hip-hop, social justice, the airline industry, culinary pursuits and cosmetology. The students in turn gave speeches of admiration and gratitude for their teachers, families, and for their educational experience. Graduate Dustin Scharwat stated, “Learning should be a way of life,” and thanked Dash for being a role model for what is possible in life.
Avery and Dustin, twins from Whidbey Island, performed on violin together during the ceremony. The brothers both graduated with high honors.
Each graduate, full of thanks and excitement, looked ready to meet the challenge issued by Slabaugh in her commencement speech: “Find what you’re good at. Find what you love.”