SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- In the last decade, home schooling has grown by 75 percent nationwide. Here in the Ozarks, it's growing just as quickly.
It's estimated that two million children, or 4 percent of the youth population, are now homeschooled. To put that in perspective, just 13,000 kids were homeschooled back in the 1970s. Ozarks parents who go that route cite a distrust in the public school system and a growing network of support.
On Wednesday afternoon, in what appeared to be a typical Springfield freshman classroom, teens were learning the "Scarlet Letter," but it was being taught by one student's parents. The three women at the back of the room are also parents, and this is not a school.
"What we do at Classical Conversations is we have tutors to help model for the parents how to educate classically," at home. These kids are all homeschooled, Kristie Stoddard's four included. Once a week they meet with other homeschooled families in a type of co-op.
Stoddard says it's made what used to feel like an isolated practice -- "it wasn't until Samuel was 3 years old until I realized there were other home schoolers out there" -- into a socially acceptable and supported way of educating.
Classical Conversation's five Ozarks chapters have doubled, maybe even tripled in size in the last six years.
"I just love teaching and my kids enjoy the freedom of being able to learn what they want to learn at their own pace," said parent Terri Prahl.
Then there are the statistics. Parents who homeschool their kids cite the success rate. About 75 percent of all kids who do their studying here take some sort of college level classes and, of the ones who do, about 67 percent of them graduate. That's compared to less than 50 percent of public school students who attend college classes and 58 percent who graduate.
Sophomore Samuel Stoddard's already got higher education on his mind.
"I'd like to go to College of the Ozarks," he said.
But Classical Conversations is about more than prepping for a degree. Let's return to that typical classroom. So it may not be so typical, but it helps these teens feel as typical as they want to.
"I think they have the idea of pants pulled up to here, shirt tucked in and kind of a know-it-all, socially awkward," Samuel said about what society thinks of homeschooled students. "But then they see me in jeans and Converse, and I'm acting like a normal person and, almost word for word, they're like 'I didn't expect you to be this normal. I thought homeschoolers were weirdos.'"
There is a Christian element to Classical Conversations, but Stoddard says it's open to anyone of any religion. She says the students don't read the Bible but there is some Biblical discussion.