The Secret School
Written by Avi
Illustrated by Brian Floca
THE STORY SO FAR: Ida was chosen by her classmates to be teacher at their one-room school. Aside from being harder than she thought, it has taken her from her own studies.
Ida’s dilemma — how to be teacher, student, part of her family, plus herself — remained. Even as she constantly reminded herself that she needed to spend more time on her own studies, she was discovering she enjoyed teaching.
At school, using patterns firmly established by Miss Fletcher, she drove the students on. That included reading and memorizing from their 15-year-old set of McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers, reviewing bits of geography, (names of states, capitals, and rivers), and going over the facts of United States history, (names of presidents in order, famous battles, important heroes). There were times for penmanship, bookkeeping, and grammar exercises — which meant parsing sentences or doing problems on the blackboard. Singing selections from the Old Favorite Song Book plus recitations of memorized literature passages rounded out the day.
On Friday afternoon the weekly spelling contest was held, with Natasha Ashneski, as usual, setting down all others. Tom won in mathematics. Ida added “High Marks” for both in the school ledger.
Each day, Ida worked with or listened to each student. Sometimes it was in twos or threes. Or alone. While she wasn’t spending time with them, the children were either working by themselves, memorizing, working with each other, studying together if on the same level, or helping one another if they were not. When they became tired, or bored — which happened — they sat quietly, day dreaming, staring out the windows at the mountains, listening to the other lessons that buzzed ceaselessly around them. Of course there were arguments, spats, even mean words — some of which brought tears. Each bit took sorting out.
Then there were school chores. Sweeping, mopping, cutting and hauling wood, dusting, taking out ashes, polishing desks, cleaning the privies, window washing. Everybody did some of everything.
Ida was beginning to think things were truly going well. Even Herbert was in school more than out. Then one day, as they were driving home, Felix said, “Ida, guess what Tom said?”
“Said you’re the toughest teacher he ever had.”
Gritting her teeth, Ida said, “I hate Tom Kohl,” and resolved, from then on, to concentrate wholly on her own studies. But as soon as she arrived she was greeted by her father’s “Ida, I need you in the barn.” It was lambing season, an exciting but unsettled time.
The weather turned springtime glorious. The air was balmy, with fluffy clouds floating through an arcing blue sky. The mountains themselves seemed to soar. Tom announced he’d seen a bald eagle on the way to school. Charley countered by insisting he’d seen hummingbirds, the season’s first. Early flowers — brilliantly yellow snow lilies, dotted the valley, promising summer, wonderful summer. No one, including Ida, wanted to be inside. Still, she told herself they had to be.
It was exactly two weeks since the day Miss Sedgewick had appeared. All that morning, Ida kept snatching glances out the window. When she caught sight of a deer running by, she gave up. She had to get out too. “I wish to make an announcement,” she said to the class.
The restless children gave her their attention.
“It’s recess time, and I have decided,” she said, “that I need recess too. From now on, at recess time, I shall go outside and play when you do. When I do, I shall be Ida. But when recess is over, I will be Miss Bidson, your teacher again. May we agree on that? All in favor, raise hands.”
All hands shot up, and there was a dash for the door.
Everyone quickly decided to play crack-the-whip down behind the privies, in the flat area near the pond. They all joined hands and convinced Ida to be at the end. Almost giddy to be playing, she agreed. Herbert grasped her hand tightly.
Tom, being biggest, took the lead and led them round and round in tighter and tighter circles. Being only eight in number, they were hardly likely to make a sharp crack, but they could get going fast enough to make someone fly.
Faster and faster they went until Ida had a hard time staying on her feet. It didn’t matter. She was so happy to be part of the group again.
Tom led on, until, as he made the final cracking twist, he shouted, “Let her go!” With that Herbert let Ida’s hand slip. It was perfectly planned, perfectly timed. Ida went flying through the air until she landed, with a great splash, right in the middle of the pond.
Soaked and mud-spattered, Ida sat in the water, laughing as she had not laughed in a long time. The other children joined in.
Suddenly they heard a voice say, “My dear Miss Bidson. Are you giving swimming lessons?”
They looked around. It was the County Examiner, Miss Sedgewick. She had returned.
To be continued.