Students of the virtual public school Washington Connections Academy had the opportunity to meet face-to-face with the their classmates and teachers in North County last week for a visit to Bi-Zi Farm in Brush Prairie. 

The morning was chilly but few students seemed to notice. The task of plucking pumpkins (barely smaller than many of them) from Bi-Zi Farm’s vast acreage or getting lost in the corn maze or petting a stinky goat was set before them and the various elements they might face along the way were mere obstacles. 

Connections Academy, which opened in 2016, is a tuition-free and online public school for students kindergarten through 10th grade — it plans to serve students through graduation within the next two years. 

The virtual school — which officials say is technically not homeschooling because it is publically funded — has the second largest number of students in Clark County, which played into their choice to choose Bi-Zi Farm for a pumpkin patch trip. That, along with many glowing recommendation of local students and parents. 

The roughly 50 Connections Academy kids tromping through the corn maze and pumpkin patch on that foggy morning were made up primarily of Clark County area and regional kids, but others traveled much farther — Maple Valley and Moses Lake to name a few. 

Erika Montgomery, a kindergarten teacher who also does some advertising work for the academy, said it’s important to allow students, parents and teachers to mingle through the field trips they hold. Shelby Jupiter, a ninth-grade English teacher, added that administration has an extra emphasis on field trips this year — the weekend prior saw them take a trip to Mount St. Helens and they try to plan around 30 functions a year, around the state. 

“It’s kinda nice to see and meet new people and make new friends,” said Grace Pitones, a seventh grader from La Center, while taking a rest after a jaunt through the corn maze. 

Kristie Leo of Ridgefield said her sixth grade son struggles with anxiety and Connections Academy allows them flexibility. They work together at his pace and when things start to become overwhelming, they sometimes stop to do Yoga. 

Along with socializing at the functions organized by the school, Montgomery said the field trips allow parents to meet other parents in the area, giving them the oppertunity to set up their own social gathering if they like. 

Once the students were satisfied with their pumpkin patch conquest, science teacher Ben Legel even managed to use autumn’s intoxicating charm to trick them into learning. They finished the day off with a few STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) activities, including building supports for small pumpkins with tiny marshmallows and toothpicks.

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