Picture this: you’re going into the third grade, and two weeks before school starts you get a letter. But not just any letter—a letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
For many children, that would be the beginning of a beautiful dream. But for Tressa Bargella’s students, it was the real start of their school year.
“I bought parchment paper and Parchment envelopes and created an acceptance letter specific to my classroom, including a 9 ¾ train ticket to board the Hogwarts Express,” Bargella tells me. “I even melted hot wax and used a Hogwarts stamper to seal the envelope so it looks official.”
From there it only got better. Walking into their elementary school in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Mrs. Bargella’s students would come across a coat rack for Invisibility Cloaks and a brick wall with a cart halfway sticking out of it—that’s where their train ticket came in handy, as they stepped through the door and into the magical world of their classroom.
“I was always one who thought that having a theme to tie everything together was so important,” Bargella explains, “I am a lover of all things Harry Potter and it seemed almost perfect to transform my room around it.”
And that’s exactly what she did. From Platform 9 ¾ to House tables to an Albus Dumbledore inspiration board, Mrs. Bargella’s classroom is an ode to Harry Potter. Lord Voldemort’s snake Nagini winds itself around the class television, the founding member of the Hogwarts Houses gaze down from the top of the chalkboard, and Moaning Myrtle stares at you from the washing up station. It’s enough to enchant an adult—so for a child, it has to be magical. And if that wasn’t enough already, each student is given their own wand when they arrive.
There’s so much to explore in the classroom itself. Faux stone walls, trunks and owls, and even a little Mandrake in a pot—mind your ears. The students’ assignment boxes are labeled as The Owlery and the classroom’s creed is a delightful and charming play on The Marauder’s Map and Dumbledore’s Army. There’s even a fake fireplace with spell and potion books. No aspect of Harry Potter has been left out. With cute and fun additions like a Wizard of the Week board and printouts of Daily Prophet front pages, it’s a fully immersive experience as any.
While first a fan of the books and movies herself, Bargella had other reasons for transforming her classroom.
“In my opinion it was the perfect theme to tie in not only academics but also social and personal growth, as well as life lessons. Bravery, loyalty, friendships and personal growth ideals are on every page. Harry Potter is so relatable to them. He struggles with many of the same issues that they do at this age. So many kids today are dealing with difficult home lives or bullying situations, and they’re all beginning to form lasting friendships,” she says, noting how each of these themes is touched on in the series. “Not to mention, at 8 and 9 years old, they are just trying to embrace their own identity and come into their own.”
Bargella describes herself as “very crafty” and a fan of DIY projects. Everything in the classroom was made by her over the course of the summer. While her children played in the family pool, she was cutting out bunting and flying keys. Once she was allowed into her classroom in August, she really made the magic happen. Bargella suspects she spent over 70 hours in the classroom before the start of the school term: “Many nights I left with night maintenance at 11 PM.”
It’s that dedication and attention to detail that makes her classroom so extraordinary. Of course, there are many Harry Potter classrooms, as teachers around the world have used the series’ themes to engage their students. , But most of these projects focus on Hogwarts, while Bargella’s classroom is everything Harry Potter. And there’s a reason for that.
“I wanted to give it an authentic feel,” she says, “and also have enough in the room that as we get further into the novels, the students will recognize and connect with the different items around them.”
Reading the books together is a good opportunity to get students to read a aloud, and also allows Bargella to have a bit of fun: “I put on my “British glasses,” I read with an accent and change my voice inflection for the characters,” she tells me.
Of course, one of the important events of the Harry Potter story is the sorting of Harry into his Hogwarts House. It’s one of the most popular conversations amongst fans—are you a Slytherin, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor or Hufflepuff? Bargella arrived at a solution through a creative technological illusion.
“I have a Sorting Hat and pre-recorded sound bites of the Sorting Hat talking on my phone. I connect the phone through Bluetooth to the system in my classroom and when my kids come up individually to put the hat on I choose where I want them to go,” she says. Each student is sorted based on a personality quiz, but sortings are redone every quarter.
Because of this, she feels that behavior issues are at a minimum, because “there is so much positive reinforcement for them to strive to be the best they can be, and each House competes against each other quarterly for the House Cup.”
Bargella says that most of her kids may have heard of Harry Potter or seen a movie or two, but in 2018, her classroom is actually an introduction to the series’ world for many students.
“I have had a couple people ask me, what do I do if I have a child that doesn’t like Harry Potter?” Bargella tells me, but this hasn’t been a problem yet. “The books and movies have been around for 20 years so I feel like at this age level, all of the students can at least identify him For the most part though, they have a clean slate.” A slate, no doubt, that she intends to imprint with a love for reading, friendship, and keeping owls as pets.