Graduating teen overcame emotional challenges

Lawrence Winowiecki, 17, finished high school at an online school, Oregon Connections Academy, after struggling with a more conventional brick-and-mortar school.

NEWPORT — Lawrence Winowiecki, 17, is excited to not only graduate from high school, but meet new people and get out in the world.

It’s a reversal for the teen, who has struggled with anxiety.

“I’m going to miss being very close to my family,” he said during a Thursday morning meeting with his mom at Oregon Coast Community College in Newport.

Winowiecki enrolled three years ago at Oregon Connections Academy, which enabled him to both continue his education and combat the struggles he encountered at local schools. Winowiecki’s enrollment at Oregon Connections Academy allowed him to grow into himself and develop at his own pace, he said, more so than he would’ve had the chance to do at a traditional school.

“I wouldn’t be forced to do a lot of stuff,” the soon-to-be-graduate said on Thursday. “I could take stuff at a distance.”

The teen’s trouble with anxiety and being fearful of others, he said, proved challenging in a traditional school environment, necessitating an alternative approach to his education. The online school allowed him to choose how he interacts with others and what events he attends. In live lessons he participated in for class, he could choose how he responded to others in the online format by choosing word boxes with pre-formed responses.

The most challenging class for him was a web design class, one of the many he took in his three years at Oregon Connections, and his favorite was an accounting class that he said was a possible career choice early on.

“It gave me a solid ‘what is accounting?’,” he said.

However, he wants to look at other career options.

“It’s very rewarding if you can do it, but I see it as very hard,” he said. “I’m seeing other things I can do and found other things I want to do.”

Welding, and possibly becoming an electrician, are two of the options he’s considering. The teen plans to go to Southwestern Oregon Community College in Coos Bay, where he’ll major in welding.

“We’re so excited he’s graduating,” said his mother, Theresa Harper. “His grade point average is above a 3.9, and he was able to join student government and the National Honor Society.”

Those accomplishments, Harper said, weren’t on her son’s radar when he started high school.

“It wasn’t on the path where he was headed,” she said. “Orca is a lot more flexible. You have lessons and you have to get them done during the assigned weeks, but if you fall behind, you have the opportunity to catch up without a huge penalty. It didn’t prevent him from getting As in his classes.”

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