COLUMBIA − One mid-Missouri school is growing while the number of students enrolled in public schools is decreasing.

Wednesday was the first day of school at Columbia Academy for Learning and  Enrichment (CALE), which opened just last year.

CALE had nine students at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year and now has 35 this year, meaning the school's student population has tripled since last year.

Numbers from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education show public school enrollment has dropped by more than 20,000 students since 2019.

A 2020 survey by EdChoice says about 41% of parents across the nation were more likely to prefer a private education for their children post-pandemic, although actual enrollment patterns did not necessarily align with their preferences.

Pre-pandemic, private school enrollment had been on a slow decline. Roughly 50.8 million students were enrolled in public schools in 2021, compared to 5.8 million students in private schools, according to CNBC.

Some parents in Columbia have switched their children to CALE because of their individualized teaching approach. Susan Deakins, a co-founder and teacher at CALE, started the school last year in hopes to help children flourish with multi-age learning.

"Instead of focusing on grade levels, we focus on the next best standard, or their next best need in their learning progression, because each child is different," Deakins said. "And so that's where we're really focused on what comes next for a particular student so there'll be in learning groups according to those needs."

Deakins also said this learning style is special in the way that they can easily adjust ones schedule to meet each kid's needs. CALE has a 10 to one ratio, which Deakins says is something many don't get to experience with a traditional school.

"The opportunity for them to be contributors, and they all are contributors," Deakins said. "And they know that's the expectation, but it's safe. It speaks exactly to what you're saying. It's just, it's a community."

One Columbia mom, Amy Longenecker, said she sent her daughter to CALE for tutoring after struggling in school due to COVID-19. 

"So coming out of COVID, every single kiddo, no matter what age or stage you were in, in life, there were all going to be some holes and some things that we needed to catch up on, or relearn," Longenecker said. "And the great thing about the way that CALE is structured is that the grades, it's mixed grade levels that are in the classes."

She said last year, she sent her third-grader Isabelle to CALE for tutoring, but Isabelle had to review some second grade material. At the end of the year, Isabelle was able to participate in fourth-grade learning.

It costs $1,200 a month to have your child attend CALE. You can find more information on their website.

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