▼ Orcas Alternative Student-Initiated Studies program reaching out
In honor of the graduation of 11 OASIS High School graduates on June 7, Emmanuel Episcopal Parish Hall was packed with an overflow gathering of over 100 parents, peers, educators, friends, neighbors, grandparents and kids on laps.
Students Tai Agnew, Rachel Taylor, Vala Ross, (Co-Valedictorian) Peter Vinson, (Co-Valedictorian), Steven Lindgren, Andon Hiltner (Salutatorian), Coyote (Kai) Womack, Nick Dimich, Casey Sherburne, and Berenice Arevalo received their OASIS High School diplomas. Will Morgan received a General Education Development (GED) certificate.
Marta Branch, OASIS High School teacher, defined an oasis as “a fertile or green area in an arrid region (as a desert) and something that provides, refuge, relief or pleasant contrast offering welcome relief in the midst of difficulty and dullness,” and said “little by little, assignment by assignment, course by course” the graduates had completed the requirements to graduate and enter “into a path of their choosing.”
She hailed them as pioneers with all the “bumps and chaos that comes with new beginnings” and said that, however circuitous” their paths had been to graduation. “You have completed something worth doing. You know forever that you can; you don’t have to wonder ‘if’.”
Branch noted that, nationally, 14 percent of students entering high school don’t graduate.
Orcas Island School District Board members Janet Brownell, Keith Whitaker and Tony Ghazel, and Superintendent Glenn Harris, attended the third graduation ceremony of OASIS High School, which was officially established just a year ago.
Many of the graduates needed only to complete one course to graduate, and were able to do that through OASIS. Last January, Branch and Orcas Island High School Principal Barbara Kline told the OISD board that they could help those students graduate if Branch’s work hours were increased and she had more time to devote to OASIS. Board member Charlie Glasser jumped on the opportunity to increase OISD enrollment through OASIS, and voted to increase Branch’s FTE that night.
The very next day, Jan. 25, Kai Womack approached Branch to enroll in OASIS and she was able to accept him. “I was really happy to get back in school after a year and a half, and graduate,” Womack said. “Now I’m going to travel and do and see and learn to do as many different things as possible.”
Vala Ross, whose son Andrew was born last Tuesday, June 3, said that although she had attended three different high schools up to her senior year, she was never able to complete her last courses and get her diploma. She hopes her children will grow up on Orcas. “I was so fortunate to have the childhood I did.”
Vinson said that, prior to joining OASIS, he “was under the misconception that irreverence fosters creativity,” and noted that “Peter Pan’s lifestyle leaves little room for improvement.”
Vinson said unequivocably, “Marta Branch is OASIS – If you don’t have a diploma, go to her tomorrow.” Rachel Taylor described Branch as “the Mother Goose of education.”
Andon Hiltner joined the chorus of students thanking Branch, saying, “It’s been a long six years [to graduate]. Thanks for being a mentor and a friend.”
Kai Womack said, “She led us through the dark at the end of that tunnel where there’s a diploma, with some of the most intellectually stimulating group of people I’ve ever been around.”
Kline, who steered several students to OASIS and graduation, said, “At OASIS, we ask, cajole, prod students to tell us what’s on their mind.” Later, as she acknowledged that she had been confused about the order of the ceremony, she observed to a student who’d questioned the order, “If I’d just listened to you, my life would be much more orderly.”
The graduates also singled out Terry Hopkins, (retired elementary teacher and librarian), Steve Gresham (OASIS instructor), Coleen O’Brien, (retired elementary principal) and Kathy Collister (Orcas High School teacher) in their thanks.