The Secret School
Written by Avi
Illustrated by Brian Floca
STORY SO FAR: Ida, age 14, has been attending a one-room schoolhouse.
Now, just before Ida finishes eighth grade, the teacher must leave, causing the school to close.
During recess, Ida and Tom sat against the west side of the building. Tom, eyes closed, tilted his face up toward the warm spring sun. Ida, by his side, braided bits of grass.
“Tom,” Ida said sadly, “I won’t ever get to be a teacher without going to high school.” She flung away the grass. “Course, my folks probably won’t have the money to board me in town anyway. You have any idea how much Miss Fletcher earns?”
“Nope,” Tom said.
“Forty dollars each month, that’s what.”
“Banana Oil!” Tom cried. “How’d you know?”
“Start of the year, I saw her contract on her desk.”
“Suppose I was. But, if I had all that money ... ”
“What would you do?”
“Teach in a big city. Denver, maybe. Have books. Own my own car. Travel around the world.”
“Come on, you’re no flapper. Girls don’t do that.”
“I was planning to!” Ida snapped. “And what about your electricity and radio? Not likely you’ll do much of that unless you get high school learning.”
“I know,” a dejected Tom agreed. He gazed up at the high, snow-capped mountains that ringed Elk Valley. The peaks felt like a cage. “I guess I can learn what I need from a correspondence course. Saw an ad in a copy of Popular Mechanics.”
“I’d already started studying for the exams,” Ida confided. “Miss Fletcher said they were hard.”
“Guess you can have
yourself some fun instead.”
Angry, Ida jumped up. “Tom Kohl,” she yelled, hands on hips, braids almost flying off her head with fury, “you’re such a sponge cake!” She stormed away.
“For crying out loud, Ida!” Tom called after her. “I was just kidding!”
Frustrated, Ida watched the little kids on the teeter-totter. “Just up and down,” she thought to herself. “Going nowhere. Suppose if I’m not going to graduate, I won’t go anywhere either.”
Still angry, she pumped up some cold water and drank from the tin cup that hung from a string.
Just then Miss Fletcher opened the schoolhouse door, bell in hand. She was about to ring it, calling an end to recess, when she saw Ida standing at the pump.
“Ida,” she called, “please come in. I’d like to talk to you.”
Not sure she wanted to talk, Ida sat on the front row bench. Miss Fletcher took her place behind the desk.
“I am grieved,” the teacher said. “I know how much you were set on going to high school.”
“It’s not your fault,” Ida said. “Maybe your mother will get better soon so you can come back.”
“Ida, she’s had a stroke. Even if she does recover, I’ll most likely stay to help take care.”
“I suppose it’s selfish of me, Miss Fletcher,” Ida said, resisting tears. “I so wanted to go on. Be a teacher. Like you.”
“You’d be a fine one.”
Ida stared at her hands. “You see, up at our farm, it’s been a decent year. My folks said if I passed, I might go on if I found a family I could board with in town. That they could afford. Miss Fletcher, I love my parents. I just don’t want to raise sheep my whole life.”
“Ida, I wish it could be otherwise.”
There was a noise. Ida looked up. Tom was standing by the door. She wondered how much he had heard.
Miss Fletcher turned. “Tom,” she said, “please call an end to recess.” She handed him the bell.
At day’s end, Ida opened their car door. Felix crawled in and took his place by the pedals. Ida flung in the empty syrup can, knelt before the steering wheel, then tied the door shut.
Suddenly, Tom popped up at the window.
“Tom Kohl,” Ida said. “I’m still peeved at you.”
“I heard what Miss Fletcher was saying to you,” Tom said earnestly.
“And you called me a sneak-peek!”
“Said you’d be a good teacher.”
“Never going to get the chance,” Ida retorted.
“Look here, Ida, why don’t you become the teacher?”
Ida stared at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re such a gravy know-it-all, you could take over. Look, your legs weren’t long enough to reach your car pedals, right? So you figured how to get Felix to work them, right?”
“Well, you’re getting to school a lot faster than you used to, aren’t you? Same thing here. Just have to find a way.”
Ida glared at him. “Tom Kohl, stop telling me what I can and can’t do! Please be so kind as to crank up the car so we can go!”
In moments the old Ford was bumping down the dirt road toward home. Ida barely paid attention. Tom’s words kept churning in her head. “Could I really become the teacher?” she kept asking herself.
To be continued.
Text copyright 2000 Avi
Illustrations copyright 2000 Brian Floca
Reprinted by permission of Breakfast Serials, Inc.
The Secret School
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