Since the 2017-18 school year, homeschooling has increased exponentially in almost every state. The school closures during the pandemic only served as a catalyst to entice more families to explore educating their children at home permanently. While school districts in large cities saw parents choosing homeschooling because of concerning content in the curriculum, rural school districts experienced their own homeschool exodus. In Pulaski County, KY, a district with fewer than 7,800 students, there has been a 75% increase in homeschooling since 2017. The reasons for the decision vary, but the overarching message is that parents are reclaiming their roles in their children’s education. 

In a little town in Kentucky, with a population of just over 11,000 people, about 90 miles south of Louisville, the idea of homeschooling fell on fertile soil, grew strong roots, and is developing into a mighty oak tree. In fact, the homeschool co-op in Campbellsville that was born out of the concern two mothers had about their own children’s education is aptly named “Acorns To Great Oaks.” This co-op has grown to serve 50 families and 115 children across Green, Taylor, and Adair counties. In addition to the bi-monthly co-op meetings, two academies meet in church buildings three days a week. These academies offer classroom instruction time that volunteer parents and community members provide for families that want it. Both academies have long waitlists, and there is the possibility of more academies forming in the next few years. 

On a recent visit as guest speakers for their President’s Day co-op gathering, my colleague, Miranda Stovall, and I could see and hear firsthand the learning that was taking place among the students. From the conversations we had with them as they entered the building, the interactions with their teachers we witnessed during the whole group and small group time, to the questions, answers, and comments during the presentation on President’s Day, I can confidently say these students are knowledgeable, articulate, and agents of their own learning. What runs like a well-oiled machine now results from months of research and planning by two moms, Katie Johnston and Stephanie Long. 

In 2020, thousands of schools nationwide were closed in response to covid. Schools in rural Kentucky were no exception. Students were struggling to learn on their own through computer screens. Families struggled to juggle work while assisting their children with confusing, ambiguous, or concerning assignments due to the topic or content. Johnston’s family was no different. She and her husband did everything they could to help their two young children with their schoolwork. While they managed okay, they would not have described their children as “thriving” in those conditions. After much prayer and deliberation, Katie took a leap of faith and went about the planning process to build Acorns To Great Oaks.

The Long family’s journey to homeschool differs from the Johnston’s. As an early childhood educator, Stephanie had experience teaching other people’s children. Her husband is a public school teacher and is well acquainted with the atmosphere and structure of that option. Together, they decided that they wanted a different learning environment for their children. They also wanted more time together as a family to cultivate their shared values and beliefs. 

Katie’s story resembles the story of so many parents across the country. Moms and dads with no background in education have taken the initiative to learn what it takes to be the primary educators of their children and have shown that it is not only possible, but it is incredibly rewarding. Stephanie’s story is shared by many other educators who have decided to pursue the calling they love outside the public school system. What sets both of them apart is that they realize the need to help other parents take that leap of faith and act on it. Their stories should inspire others who want to see their children and children in their community not simply survive in school but thrive on their educational journey. 

When families are free to direct their children’s educational path, children will flourish in an environment that best meets their needs. Every family, regardless of income or zip code, should have the opportunity to choose, and every child should have the opportunity to thrive.

This piece originally appeared at Freedom in Education.