Every semester a new group of them arrives, fresh-faced, wide-eyed, often clutching owls or wands, quivering with excitement and ready to be sorted into one of the four houses … no, they’re not at Hogwarts. These are third, fourth, and fifth grade students who signed up to be in the Harry Potter club at our magnet school.
A colleague and I are the founders, the “co-deputy headmistresses” of the club, formed in conjunction with the school’s mission to expand arts and science integrated opportunities for the students. Staff chooses what to offer; students can sign up for anything from cooking classes to a foreign language to astronomy. Since it began, the Harry Potter club has operated at maximum capacity. Once we know students’ names, they receive their own rolled parchment letter of acceptance (as yet not delivered by owl, but we headmistresses are working on that).
My colleague and I expected to have fun – after all, we chose a theme that was fun for us. We expected that the kids would have fun, and they do. From Day One when they are sorted with the help of an online quiz – we call it the “technological Sorting Hat” and we always end up with an alarming number of Slytherins, prompting discussions about character traits – through sessions of making their own wands, Quidditch pencil brooms, golden snitches, and patronus pictures, the students savor every moment. One of us, a teacher or student volunteer, reads aloud from the books while the club members work on their crafts. As students are sorted, someone reads Harry’s sorting experience to the group; when students make wands, one of us reads the scene where Harry goes to Ollivander’s for his wand. All students chime in right on cue, because they’ve seen the movies and they know: “The wand chooses the wizard.”
What my colleague and I didn’t expect were the far-reaching effects. Parents frequently tell us: “My child is SO excited about being in the Harry Potter club!” We didn’t expect the depth of the discussions students would initiate on their own, regarding various characters and their motivation:
“Professor Snape was really protecting Harry the whole time, not trying to hurt him.”
“That’s because Snape loved Harry’s mother – they knew each other when they were little, before she knew Harry’s father.”
“It was Harry’s mother’s love that protected him – she died to save him, and that’s why Voldemort couldn’t defeat Harry.”
One would have expected students to be drawn most by the magic, the fantastic, or the old good vs. evil theme, but at the ages of eight to ten or eleven, the students talk more about love, the huge, shining thread that winds through the stories and ties them all together.
My colleague and I certainly never anticipated one student’s attending the club from its inception to the day he left for middle school. As the club is in high demand, repeaters are not usually allowed. One of his teachers made the appeal: “He doesn’t like school, but he loves the Harry Potter club. He’s always here on club days. Can he please be in it again?”
His mother said: “It’s all he ever talks about – the Harry Potter club.”
Our young friend turned out to be a jubilant Gryffindor (as is yours truly, for the record). By his third go-round in the club, he was made Head Boy; he coached newcomers on club matters. He occasionally stopped by my room to discuss Potter trivia and other topics of his interest, always smiling. When he graduated from the fifth grade, my colleague and I presented him with a Hogwarts T-shirt. He wore it for the ceremony.
Just before his departure, our veteran member was asked why he loved the club so much. His brow furrowed in thought for a moment before he replied: “It’s this whole story about a boy who loses his parents and everything is hard for him all the time, but he still tries to save everyone. He’s so brave.”
He paused. We listeners wondered, with tears brimming, what sage, profound connection might be coming next. Our Head Boy just shrugged: “And there’s no Star Wars club.”
Reflect: The power of story is limitless. Read a story to someone. Tell yours. It matters.