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Originally published Saturday, June 15, 2013 at 7:20 PM

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Online students meet each other at graduation

Insight High graduates got their degrees on Saturday and met for the first time many of their classmates at the online school.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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High-school senior Rosemary Perkins studied German for four years, but it wasn’t until Saturday that the 17-year-old finally met her teacher in person.

Perkins and about 425 of her peers graduated Saturday from Insight High School of Washington, a public, online high school that opened in fall 2006. The graduation ceremony was held at Bellevue College.

Insight High is one of about 20 online schools in Washington that offer students an alternative experience to brick-and-mortar high schools.

There’s no lunchroom, no being shoved into lockers, no sports teams. It’s an appealing model for some students.

“Online school gives you a chance to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t associate with,” said Perkins, the Class of 2013 valedictorian. “It kind of forces you to get to understand a person before you judge them on how they look.”

High-school romance, for sure, lives on in cyberspace.

Cheering for Insight High graduate Dominyck Darlington on Saturday was his fiancée, Megan Rybus, who graduated from Insight last year. The couple first met during his freshman year in an online English class, then experienced a spark after class on a discussion board tossing around a question about life in outer space.

“It all started with space conversations,” said Darlington, 18.

At the time, Rybus lived in Tacoma and described herself as a tomboy. Darlington lived in Wenatchee.

“We were long distance,” Rybus said, “168 miles apart.”

Darlington plans to join the Air Force and study astrophysics and aerospace engineering. He said he eventually wants to be an astronaut. Rybus, who plans to follow him, wants to become a psychologist.

About 1,900 students attended Insight High this year. Executive Director Jeff Bush said about half the students who enroll are struggling in traditional high school. A majority of the students are female, he said, many of whom are trying to get away from bullying in their traditional schools.

About 19 percent graduate on time and about 30 percent go on to college, according to the state.

Principal Myron Hammond said his biggest discipline problem is “inappropriate chats” on the school’s discussion boards.

Families have to be able to access the Internet, but Insight High can lend each student a laptop. Students say the online courses are challenging and that they have to motivate themselves to finish homework. The program offers 24-hour online tutorial support.

Teachers hold virtual office hours and live online class sessions, which are recorded for students who miss class.

The flexible schedule appeals to many students, including graduate Emmeran Pokorny, 18, of Kenmore.

Pokorny plays viola and practices hard — four hours daily — with his two older brothers, also Insight High grads. The “Rocoempo” trio performed at Saturday’s ceremony for Pokorny’s classmates, many of whom he’d never met.

Shalaidah Velain, 18, of Federal Way, said she kept missing class at her local public school because of her insomnia. At Insight, Velain said, she was able to finish her coursework on her own clock and use her time more efficiently.

“You can start a business. You can get a job. You can raise a family,” she said.

Perkins, the valedictorian, for example, spent this past year earning money four days a week as a baby-sitter and volunteering in her hometown of Battle Ground, Clark County.

She plans to attend Washington State University in Vancouver, major in neuroscience and become a medical translator.

During Saturday’s ceremony, one graduating student told the crowd of spending her first two years at Insight High School from a psychiatric hospital. Her doctor attributed her improvement to her succeeding in her online school, she said.

Sara Hurd, another graduating student, recounted being bounced around the foster system, living in different states and finally finding a path to success at Insight High.

“This school had faith in me when not many did,” Hurd said.

For Darlington and Rybus, they’re about to embark on their next act of faith: They are getting married on June 29. They’re inviting family and close friends but none of their classmates.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @sbhatt.

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