When Jami Phillips met a group of "normal homeschoolers," it got the public school teacher and mother of two thinking.
"I thought that people that homeschooled were this really weird group ... really out there. But I met these moms and they convinced me that it was silly for me as a teacher to send my child to another teacher so I could teach somebody else's kid."
That was more than a decade ago. Today, she and her 14-year-old son, Colin, are getting ready to tackle ninth grade together in just a few weeks.
They are not alone. The Rolla area boasts a vibrant and growing number of families large and small who have chosen to school their children at home.
"When I started out, Colin was in kindergarten. I thought 'Well, I am a teacher, no problem. I can do this,' " said Phillips who at the time was living in Des Moines, Iowa.
However teaching her son was different than instructing a room full of kids.
"I had to put away the notion that if you were not sitting at the desk doing written work, you weren't learning," she said.
She also had to quickly learn that her school time with Colin was just like any other job. That meant no phone calls, no visits and no being out of the house.
"I have learned from experience that it works best if mom and the kids can be really, really focused during that time of the day," Phillips told the Daily News.
Helping keep her focus over the years has been the use of curriculum. She and her husband David have chosen to use a Christian-based homeschool curriculum published by Our Fathers World. Interestingly, Our Fathers World is an internationally recognized company whose main offices are in Rolla.
"The curriculum is great because all of my work is all planned out from square one. It is great to know that I can pick up that teacher's manual on Monday morning especially when it has been a hectic weekend and to be able to hit the ground running with Colin," she said.
Equally helpful in her homeschooling endeavors is the support and fellowship she receives from like-minded moms. The Phillipses are very involved in Rolla's Christian Home Educators Support System (CHESS).
"Moms with support will endure in this and I think moms who feel alone and don't have that network will leave homeschooling," Phillips related.
For more than 10 years now, Suzanna Embry has been a leader and organizer with CHESS. She estimates that there are around 160 area families registered via the CHESS website.
The website serves as a bulletin board of sorts to keep families updated on a myriad of field trips, special classes or events in the community throughout the year.
Page 2 of 3 - "Homeschooling has been a real blessing in our lives," noted Embry who has homeschooled for 17 years. She is currently putting together the volleyball schedule for the Rolla Homeschool Athletic Association.
An often heard criticism leveled at homeschool families is that the home educated children are not as socialized as their private or public school peers.
However, both Phillips and Embry noted that there is no shortage of activities among the Rolla homeschool community to get out and interact with other families.
"There are so many things that the kids can be involved in. You have to be choosy these days. We have to remind ourselves that the word 'home' is in the concept of homeschooling," said Phillips with a smile.
She added that her son, Colin, who is very interested in martial arts has made many friends through the homeschool PE program which takes place every Tuesday at The Centre.
"They have different age groups there and it brings a wide variety of kids together. Families that are homeschooling for religious reasons and families that aren't.
"It really brings the area homeschooling community together at The Centre," she said.
On Rolla's southeast side of town, Agnes Vojta has been homeschooling her two children since 2008. Her motivations have been mainly academic. Her family is part of a thriving secular homeschooling group in town.
"My kids were in middle school and they were bored and not being challenged academically," said Vojta who along with husband Thomas are physics professors at Missouri University of Science and Technology.
Over the years, she personally has designed the curriculum for her son, Phillip, 14, and daughter Sophia, 16. It is based on a classical approach to education.
"We have been integrating great literature with history because I think it is the only way to put the literature in context," she said.
As well, she and her teens can be found listening to college level lectures on CD. Their CD library is full of disks on topics such as Napoleon or music and mathematics.
Vojta said she has benefited greatly over the years from the Internet and online forums where she can voice her worries or concerns.
"I was very scared of homeschooling high school," Vojta said. "And it has worked out very well so far."
As a college-level professor, Vojta will often have students tell her that they have been homeschooled.
"They will volunteer that information when they find out that I am homeschooling our children," she said. "If you did not know that they are homeschooled, you couldn't tell them apart from the rest of my students."
Next year will mark the Embrys' last year of homeschooling. Her younger daughters Kathy and Elainna will be graduating from high school and heading off to college. She could not imagine having educated her daughters any other way.
Page 3 of 3 - "I did not have nearly the opportunities that my kids have had through the years," noted Embry. "I was never in the play or on a sports team and my daughters have done so many amazing things."
Along the way, Mom has learned a few things too.
"We have worked together often at everything. We've made hygrometers, dissected, cooked, knitted and planted and canned several different items. We have rafted, tapped maple trees, spelunked through several caves, done behind-the-scenes roller coaster physics and helped with political races among other things."
Vojta tells a similar story: "If I were to put one common denominator for the parents in our group it is that they are hungry to learn. I know that I am learning all the time," said Vojta. "For instance, I have had the chance to read Dante and 'The Canterbury Tales.' It has been a real blessing."