It's the first day of school for teacher Joby Dupree, but she already knows her students very well. The pupils — 12-year-old Sydney and 11-year-old twins Phillip and Andrew — are Dupree's children. She has been teaching them at home for the past seven years.
When talking about her kids’ education, Dupree sounds like a rosy-cheeked schoolmarm.
"I'm really looking forward to this year," she said. "We are pretty psyched. It's middle school, so it's something a little bit different for us."
The Dupree children are among an estimated 1,500,000 children being homeschooled in the United States. Advocates say there is a growing trend toward homeschooling, especially among minority families who are disenchanted with the offerings of public education.
"Minority communities are beginning to realize that the system is not going to change overnight, and the promises that are being made are 5- and 10- and 15-year promises," said homeschooling advocate Bernard West, who, like the Duprees, is black. "If you have a third-grader or a fourth-grader, that means that chances are that third-grader is going to graduate from a bad public school."
According to a just released study from the Department of Education, roughly half of the parents in 1999 who chose homeschooling did so because they believe they can provide a better education for their children. Religious consideration was the next most popular reason given at 38 percent. And 25 percent cited a poor learning environment in public schools.
Dupree was so concerned that she gave up a career in accounting to teach at home. She teaches her children everything from African history to lessons in life.
"What keeps me homeschooling is that I know that I can give my child exactly what they need in school," she said. "I don't think the public schools can do that, and a lot of private schools can't either."
Her children consistently score above average in their annual assessment tests and have an appetite for a variety of subjects.
"I've seen a lot of stuff on dinosaurs and read a lot of books, seventh-grader Phillip said. "I'm also interested in composition of molecules, like atoms, quarks, electrons."
But just as important, the Dupree kids really like their teacher. And how do the Dupree kids rate their teacher on this first day of school?
"She's pretty nice," Andrew said. "I like her."
"Since she's my mom, in my eyes, it's like being taught by the best teacher," Sydney said.