The first time I used a computer in school, I labored to type my name, grade and two sentences about what I’d done over the weekend.

Over the years, computers became more and more integrated into instruction.

We played Oregon Trail and Super Solvers games and used a turtle icon to program basic commands. We typed book reports and printed them on long sheets of continuous form paper before carefully separating each piece and removing the perforated margins before turning them in.

I fell into that gray area where my education evolved with the Internet. By high school, we researched papers online, could email teachers questions and learned etiquette for online communications (I have a feeling we don’t teach that anymore).

Now, Hermiston students as young as kindergarten can enroll in an online-based education, using at-home science experiments and computer programs to replace classroom instruction.

Hermiston ONLINE! — billed as “a premier public online learning experience” — recently began enrolling students for its first school year. The public school serves students K-12 within the greater Hermiston community with a full curriculum-based education through primarily online means. Students receive text books and materials at their homes, and eventually, the instructors will come from the Hermiston School District.

As of Tuesday, hundreds had requested information and 15-20 students had already signed up to enroll in the program. Although most of the students are upper-level students, Hermiston ONLINE! coordinator Abby Mattson said some elementary parents have expressed interest as well. The school year begins in August.

Personally, I loved elementary school, but I would have seriously considered an online option, especially with advanced courses, in high school.

I graduated from a small school — Union High, 14 miles south of La Grande — with no dual-credit opportunities. My senior year, I drove to Eastern Oregon University four days a week to take pre-calculus and trigonometry on campus because it was the closest the school could offer to advanced placement courses.

Now students have the opportunity to take those classes at home, for college credit, when they aren’t offered at the high school (although our local high schools offer some sort of college/high school dual-credit option).

Even better, those students can take classes online and still be involved in extracurricular activities — clubs, sports, competitions — and elective classes — band, choir, art, p.e. — at a grade-appropriate local school campus with other students.

But it does come with some challenges.

Hermiston ONLINE! won’t help students who are already struggling academically. Hermiston School District Interim Superintendent Smith has described the program as “robust” and “intensive,” making it better suited to students who are already excelling and looking for more.

It will help some students who have the academic ability, but have family or work obligations, because they can take classes in the evening or sporadically during the day, whenever it fits in their schedule.

For the students on the other end of the spectrum, the students who can’t make it to class but need extra attention, Hermiston ONLINE! won’t help. I believe there’s also a risk of isolation.

Nothing is in place that would require students to be involved with high school activities. The options are there, but a student could opt to spend his or her entire high school career locked in a bedroom, glued to a computer monitor.

Students can interact online with their classmates, but a student who could become a graduate of Hermiston School District without ever befriending another student, attending an event or walking the halls at Hermiston High.

In a time where we’re already seeing erosion of human-to-human communication, the idea of raising a generation of graduates with no personal interaction skills worries me.

Will these be young adults who attend college online or work from home? Students who work in offices after-hours where they don’t have to interact with the general public?

Yes, it’s an extreme example. But it’s something to consider.

On the flip side, will these students be better prepared for college courses, which traditionally have a more computer-driven model than high school?

I’m looking forward to seeing how Hermiston ONLINE! does in its first year. I think it has a lot of potential to give students access to more choices and more options than schools can provide with brick-and-mortar limitations.

We’ll have to wait and see.

Have an opinion on this topic? Sound off in the comment section at

Jennifer Colton can be contacted at

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