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The Secret School (2003)

The Secret School (2003)
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Rating
3.74 of 5 Votes: 2
ISBN
0152046992 (ISBN13: 9780152046996)
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English
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hmh books for young readers
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The Secret School (2003)
The Secret School (2003)

About book: This would be a good older elementary/middle school read. The main character (Ida) is a fourteen year old girl who wants to be a teacher someday, but near the end of her eighth grade year, her teacher's mother becomes very sick, and her teacher has to leave to go take care of her mother. The school board president decides to cut costs by not getting a replacement with only a few months left. That means that none of the students will get credit for that school year and Ida won't be able to take the test to qualify to attend high school. Then her best friend Tom comes up with a solution: continue going to school in secret with Ida as the teacher of the younger kids!This would be a great book to read with your child or discuss later with your child.The book takes place in 1925, and the differences between then and now almost one hundred years later are very interesting. Those students memorized a lot. I don't really feel like students today are required to memorize large passages of literature or historical speeches. It was a one room school house, so all the different first through eighth grade students were together and often helped each other. I think that is a really good experience, for a child good at math to help another child with that subject and then get help back in literature. And likewise students in higher grades can help the students in lower grades. You gain a lot through teaching what you know. I was also impressed by their desire to learn. A lot of them were more educated than their parents, and in 1925 you took a test to qualify for high school rather than everyone getting forced to go like now. It's like their high school was similar to our college level almost in that way.The opening scene with fourteen year old Ida driving the car, well steering the car, while her younger brother was crouched down pushing the clutch and pedals definitely set the stage for how different life was back then. But as Ida said, driving the car like that beat walking five miles to and from school.I wish there were some way to instill the love of learning that those children had into children today. And of course I'm sure not all kids back then didn't love school (Herbert didn't excel for his own personal reasons), but I would hazard the guess that more children then appreciated the opportunity to go to school than children do today.Another benefit, to me, is that the children had one teacher for such a long time. If you've had the same teacher for eight years, you can bet you have a relationship and the teacher would really know by then how to teach you and get to you.I loved how supportive Ida's parents were of each other and how honest they were with Ida, and supportive of her as well.I also really loved how there were little crushes, or admiration, and it was able to be left at that. There was no pressure to date or make a decision or kiss or anything. Kids were allowed to be kids. There was teasing but no rush to grow up. I feel like fourteen years olds today feel a lot of pressure to already have boyfriends/girlfriends and emulate their older peers in issues that are way over their maturity levels. So I liked that it was okay to just like someone and leave it at that.This book also made me consider the role of women. I often take my liberty as a woman for granted, but the generations preceding me really overcame a lot of obstacles for me to have this freedom. I have always wanted to be a mother, a college educated mother, but I wonder if I would have wanted to be a mother (and be as fulfilled and happy as I am as one) if I had been forced into the role, if it had been the only role available to me, rather than being the life that I chose. Tom's mentioning that no nice girl would want to do the things Ida wanted to do made me think of that, of the strict gender roles."'Now, Ida Bidson,' Mr. Jordan answered, 'as an adult, it's my bounden duty to inform you—as I'm certain your parents do every day—that life teaches us many a hard lesson beyond school. No doubt this . . . exam business will be inconvenient.'But I'd suggest you think a little less of yourself and a little more on Miss Fletcher and her ailing mother. Besides, I'm not so sure a girl needs a high school education. Any more questions?' Mr. Jordan asked, looking around the room.""'But, if I had all that money . . . ' [said Ida.]'What would you do?' [asked Tom.]'Teach in a big city. Denver, maybe. Have books. My own car. A new one. Travel around the whole world.''Come on, you're no flapper. Nice girls don't do that.''Then, I'm not nice,' Ida snapped.""Ida started to go back to her regular seat. She was halfway there when she paused. 'Miss Fletcher, do you think girls don't need a high school education?''Oh no, of course I don't believe that. Mr. Jordan was not . . . thinking.''It's what he said.'Miss Fletcher sighed. 'Ida, do try to be patient.''It's hard being patient,' Ida replied, 'if there's nothing to be patient for.'""'You're always taking a vacation,' Susie said.Herbert flushed. 'Am not! Working, that's what. My dad says there ain't no laws can force me to go to school. Unconstitutional.'""Ida sighed. 'I can't believe we're doing this.''You nervous?' [Tom]'I think so.''Know what my uncle once told me?'Ida shook her head.'Said, "If you want to try something new, and you're not scared, means you're not really trying something new."''Maybe I'm too scared,' Ida said with a wan smile.'Which scares you the most,' Tom pressed, 'teaching, or not going to high school?''I think I'd hate myself if I didn't try everything to get there,' Ida said after a moment.'Well,' said Tom, 'if I had to pick between hating myself and scaring myself, guess I know what I'd do.''What?''Oh no!' Tom said, getting up. 'Last time I suggested what you could do, you got made at me. You're gonna have to decide for yourself.'""Do what conscience says is right;Do what reason says is best;Do with all your mind and might;Do your duty, and be blest.""As the days passed, she worked with or listened to each student separately, though there were times she worked simultaneously with two or three. When she wasn't spending time with them, the children were either learning lessons by themselves, memorizing, working with each other, studying together if they were on the same level, or helping one another if they were not. When they became tired or bored—which happened—they sat quietly, staring out the windows at the mountains, daydreaming. Sometimes they did little but listen to the other lessons that buzzed ceaselessly around them.""Then there were school chores. Sweeping, mopping, cutting and hauling wood, dusting, taking out ashes, polishing desks, filling the stove, cleaning the privies, washing windows. Everybody did some of everything."

Avi is one of the authors that I always expect great things from, and I am never disappointed when I read one of his books. The Secret School is about a fourth grade reading level, but perfect for a class that I teach of struggling readers. This quick read (about 150 pages, but larger print than normal) is about a valley of farmer's children that go to school in a one room schoolhouse. Their teacher is leaving because her mother is ill and the school board has decided to close the school. Then a student (Tom) decides that they could continue going to school if one of the other students (Ida) becomes the teacher. After a night of thinking about it, Ida decides that if the whole class agrees on it, then she will take over as teacher. The only thing is, they can't let the school board know, so the secret school is born. Ida learns that it is difficult becoming the teacher, as well as studying herself and working on the farm, but for the most part everything goes well, until...I'm sure that you can figure out some of the problems that erupt when you have a secret school, but you'll have to read the story to find out more. All in all, this is a great book that can get student's thinking about what it was like when everyone went to school in the same room regardless of age. There are lessons about motivation and helping one another as well. As a teacher, I would encourage others to take a deeper look at what it would be like if we were not forced to get an education. I think that if our students begin to really look at what privileges they have now, they might not be so upset when they have to get up in the morning or do their homework. Also, there are tons of history lessons that can pop up from discussing this book.It's a small book but can lead off to greater things. I highly recommend it to beginning novel readers, struggling older readers, or teachers that want something quick and sweet to start off their units.
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Reviews
Denise Leshay
I really loved this book, and I plan on reading it to my students this year. Avi is a wonderful author and he really makes you feel like it is 1925 and you are a student in the classroom of The Secret School. The book was a quick read and it made me think about how lucky we are to be able to attend school and give it our main focus. Imagine having to go to school and work on a farm every other spare minute. I'm hoping this book will make my students think about how lucky they are to have the opportunity to be educated and inspire them to do their best this school year.
Sherry Thornberry
A very good book. This book to me is a great illustration of a time when the importance of education was just starting to emerge. It also gently alluded to the the way women's education was considered as not as important and a waste. This would be a great book to introduce what the United States would have looked like for a rural community on the cusp of the Great Depression. I would also use it to show students how empowered they can be when they have a goal that is just yet ambitious. 176 pages.
Miss Amanda
This is such good story. I read this book today and I really needed to. I hear (from people) and read articles about the education system in the United States. Most of time it's all negative and this morning when I was reading the news, there where three negative articles.This story is about a one room school closing in 1925, because the teacher needed to leave to take care of a sick relative and the school board deciding to close the school early for the year. The children take their education in hand by unanimous vote, to keep the school open. One of the students, Ida becomes the teacher of the others, while continuing her own education. It's a great heart warming story with quite a few different layers. There is also a lot about, grouping up and how you are perceived; a hint of romance and about a lot of hard work.
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