Third-grade teacher Anita Wong gets a congratulatory hug from her daughter Jennifer after receiving an excellence award from the Educational Enrichment Foundation on Wednesday. Parents of Wong’s students nominated her for the honor.

When students walk into Anita Wong’s third-grade classroom they step into the land of Hogwarts.

But rather than teaching her 8- and 9-year-old students how to cast spells and concoct potions, Wong has spent her time instilling a love of learning and developing young readers who do not shy away from 300-plus page books.

On Wednesday, Wong was pulled away from Room 8 ¾ at Sam Hughes Elementary School to attend a teacher recognition event hosted by the Educational Enrichment Foundation where she was surprised with $1,500.

The Evelyn Jay Excellence in Education Award recognizes outstanding TUSD pre-K through third-grade educators who inspire a lifelong love of reading.

Wong was nominated for the honor by Sam Hughes parents Tina Castaneda and Jean McKnight Guymon, who praised her innovative teaching style.

Wong transformed her classroom into a magical Harry Potter-themed land, dividing students into Hogwarts houses, playing games like Math Quidditch and allowing students to choose Hogwarts jobs.

The Prefects lead class lines, the Flue Operator is in charge of the class telephone, the Manager of Muggle Materials is in charge of lunch boxes and the Care of Magical Creatures job involves feeding classroom pets.

Wong also hosts Hogwarts Feast at the end of the first semester.

“All of these little ways Mrs. Wong incorporates the Harry Potter theme into her classroom has created a strong and undeniable student interest in reading the whole Harry Potter book series,” the parents wrote in their nomination letter, adding that many students in the class have read all seven of the lengthy books in the series and have gone on to more complex reading.

Wong has been at Sam Hughes for two years. She has a variety of activities designed to encourage a love of literacy, including DEAR sessions — Drop Everything And Read — as well as having class discussions about readings and acting out main ideas of stories.

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McKnight Guymon’s daughter Molly previously only showed a cursory interest in reading until Wong came along, she said.

“Today my daughter is reading the fifth book in the Harry Potter series,” the mother said. “Her arm muscles are barely strong enough to hold the 500-plus page books and yet, she cannot stop reading.”

The decision to transform her classroom into a Harry Potter world stems from Wong’s love of the books, she said Wednesday.

“I wanted to bring my love for Harry Potter into the room,” Wong said, adding she never expected it to result in accolades.

“I got into teaching because I love what I do and I don’t really think about whether anyone notices or not, but apparently they do,” she said.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at or 573-4175. On Twitter: @AlexisHuicochea