It took less than a week after going back to school before my 3rd-grader awoke one morning and declared how “boring” it is, which seems to be the battle cry for school kids everywhere. Well, everywhere except for one classroom at Valley View Intermediate School in Archabald, Pennsylvania, where 3rd-grade teacher Tressa Bargella has transformed her classroom into a Hogwarts-inspired haven, straight out of Harry Potter.
Bargella just recently moved up to teaching 3rd-grade, after spending 13 years as a kindergarten teacher in the school. Realizing that with older kids comes an opportunity to try new things, she let her imagination take hold when decorating her classroom — and it clearly paid off, in a big way.
“I was always one who thought that having a theme in the classroom to tie everything together was so important,” Bargella tells Babble. “I am a lover of all things Harry Potter and it seemed almost perfect to transform my room around it since now I had an older, age-appropriate group. I also felt it was the perfect age group to introduce them to Harry Potter since most kids at this age are not really familiar with it.”
Bargella says she worked tirelessly for most of the summer to create an otherworldly experience for her students, and it certainly shows. The classroom, which has been going viral in the past week after photos were shared on Facebook, has some impressively creative features to keep students engaged with learning all year long.
There are magical potions like Floo Powder, Unicorn Blood, and Polyjuice displayed in ornate glass bottles with amazingly detailed labels, and even a sweet nook that resembles Hagrid’s cabin to such a degree that one could easily imagine sipping tea there with the beloved giant. There’s also an incredibly realistic-looking Mandrake “growing” in a pot that would make Professor Sprout proud.
But Bargella didn’t just work Harry Potter-themed details into every aspect of her classroom for fun (though it certainly is fun). Bargella tells Babble that she also plans to use the Harry Potter stories to enhance academics in other ways, too.
“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,” Bargella shares. “Bravery, loyalty, friendships and personal growth ideas are on every page. Not to mention an overall concept of just good vs. evil. Yes, the magical aspect is intriguing and I do think it piques the curiosity of my students, however, Harry Potter is also so relatable to them.”
Bargella also points out that most 3rd-graders have a great deal in common with the magical wizard. Just like Harry, her students will likely deal with issues surrounding bullying this year. They’ll also have to navigate the new challenges that come when forming meaningful and long-lasting friendships. And at the tender ages of 8 and 9, kids in real life and in Harry Potter are just trying to figure out who they are and what their place in this world is.
Teachers are woefully underpaid in the United States, given the incredible service they provide. So when you consider the amount of personal time and money Bargella put in in order to pull off the decor, it’s all the more incredible.
Bargella tells Babble that although teachers are not permitted to enter their rooms until August, she spent her entire summer crafting most of the elements to the room on her own time at her house. But once August came, Bargella got to work putting her room together.
“Just August alone I had probably spent more than 70 hours there,” says Bargella. “Many nights I left at night with the night maintenance at 11 PM.”
As for the cost, she says that she doesn’t have an exact figure totaled, though she does say the final bill was “significant.” That said, she did her best to find creative ways to save money.
“I was constantly searching for discounted items,” she shares. “Although Amazon Prime is my best friend, I frequented yard sales, flea markets, thrift stores, and often Facebook Marketplace.”
If you’re wondering what her new students and fellow teachers think of her Herculean efforts, you can bet they’re pretty stoked.
Bargella even sent her students personalized Hogwarts Acceptance Letters, complete with their very own (pretend) train tickets, departing from — you guessed it — Platform 9 3/4 ! Once the kids arrived on the first day of school, they received their wands and were “sorted” into their houses. Talk about adorable!
“Parents came in with their students to meet the teacher orientation, [and] they were all so excited,” says Bargella. “The best part is my students WANT to be there! It’s been the smoothest and easiest transition for them and they are eager to learn!”
It is absolutely breathtaking what teachers will do to keep their kids engaged with learning. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to reread the Harry Potter series with my own little 3rd-grader.