In the seconds before class started, Julie Jacobs scanned the second-story youth room in a mild panic. Someone left their Bible on the foosball table in the back, probably from last Wednesday night, but that wasn’t what she was looking for this Friday morning.
“Where’s the projector?” she said to a nearby mother while straightening two rows of chairs. “I see the hookup, but there’s no projector.”
In filed 18 pairs of skinny jeans and flannels, the line interrupted every once and again by bare knees and Nike shorts. No denim dresses, Jacobs made clear. After all, she said, not all homeschoolers are like the Duggars.
Jacobs, like most parents at the King’s Co-op, teaches a class. Hers is called “adulting,” and this week, she had special guests.
As her students found their seats, Jacobs and the two other moms would have to make do.
“Here, I guess we’ll just have to put your laptop here, and they can scoot in,” Jacobs said to a woman she’d been talking to all morning.
The woman introduced herself and her partner Robert Little. The words “Anna Deramus, Northport Police Department,” were embroidered on her badge.
Today's class was on personal safety, and Jacobs had asked them each to teach the kids the basics, like how to interact with police officers and what do when you get in a wreck or get pulled over.
“It’s a fun class,” Jacobs said before listing the past weeks’ topics: fire safety, drywalling and grilling.
For ten Fridays a semester, Jacobs drives from the outskirts of Northport to the center of town, where 256 parents and students gather at the University Church of Christ to teach and learn.
“I think a lot of people think homeschoolers just sit around in their pajamas all the time,” Jacobs said. “…[This co-op] is not a play group.”
Some families, like those from Boligee and Fayette and Hamilton, drive even further, stopping at relatives’ on Thursday nights to make it to their Friday sessions. Others make larger sacrifices, like single-parent incomes.
As she headed toward the elementary wing, Jacobs pointed to a group of women sitting in the church lobby. Some grabbed sign-up sheets for next year’s classes. Several of those women, she said, gave up their jobs or the thought of having a job so that they could be here.
“Every homeschool parent is their [child’s] advocate, or their teacher, or their principal, or their counselor,” Jacobs said.
While the King’s Co-op may run smoothly, daily phone calls tell Julie McLaurine that many other potential homeschool parents are not always aware of their responsibilities.
“They’d call me and say, ‘We’re interested in homeschooling in your home school. Where do we bring our kids?’” she said, laughing.
In the past 15 years, McLaurine has noticed an increase in Tuscaloosa homeschoolers. Since 2000, the Alabama’s homeschool population has increased from 14,121 to 24,189, according to Ann Zeise of A2Z Homeschooling.
“We are seeing people that feel like they have the responsibility to educate their children,” McLaurine said. “But for a good number of them, it’s more that they are escaping from the public schools than that they have really thought through homeschooling and what it means and how they should approach it.”
McLaurine is the Communications Director for Tuscaloosa Home Educators, a group that began in the 80s as a religious group. Now, members do not have to agree with the statement of faith, but those in leadership roles must.
Today, she said, homeschool families are more diverse, and their reasons for choosing home school are too.
“Homeschooling, like a lot of things, is like herding cats,” McLaurin said. “You’ve got lots of individuals who have strong opinions about lots of things.”
Brent Hutto’s six children are homeschooled. Meredith, his oldest, is the only one to have dipped her toes in the public system, but she opted to return to her roots. The work, she said, was not challenging enough.
Hutto echoed the words of Malcolm Gladwell, a man he seems to have recited a time or two.
“The difference between a child that achieves and struggles is the parent,” he said. “…You gotta teach your child how to learn.”
Now, Meredith is at Mississippi State studying architecture, but her siblings have a while to go before they start thinking about college.
“The reason we did [homeschooling] is so we would know our children as best as possible,” he said.
Virginia can play ball, but she’s not the greatest at math, he said. Brink is going to be the next president, and Eva can sing and dance and act. The other two are too young to know yet.
“It’s not about taking our kids away from the world,” he said. “It’s about bringing them into the world.”