The deadline for choosing the members of the year's Academic Teams is the Tuesday following the winter holiday. The other teachers have already announced their teams; only Mrs. Olinski has not made her decisions. What Mrs. Olinski has decided is that she will not hold tryouts for the positions, but will simply appoint the members instead.
Noah is the first student chosen by Mrs. Olinski to be on her team. She makes that determination while reading a paper he has written about the First Amendment. After choosing Noah, she immediately thinks of Nadia and Ethan. She observes the two closely over the next few weeks and becomes convinced that they are right for the job. It is the fourth member of the team that causes Mrs. Olinski the most trouble. She at first considers Hamilton Knapp because although he is inarguably naughty, he is smart and is also a leader. Every time she thinks about Ham, however, something tells her that her choice is wrong. Mrs. Olinski never considers adding Julian to the team. In her mind, he is "too far off the mainland...not a team player." In addition, she cannot shake the image of him on the first day of school, standing by the blackboard in front of the word "CRIPPLE."
On the day that Epiphany Middle School is invited to see the musical Annie, Mrs. Olinski receives a revelation. When an unidentified student creates such a disturbance by chanting, "Arf! Arf! Arf!" she knows that the perpetrator is from her class, and she is angry at the terribly mean spirit underlying the stunt. Although she has no proof, there is no doubt in Mrs. Olinski's mind that the disruption has been instigated by Hamilton Knapp. There is no way that she will now ask him to be the fourth member of her team.
Coincidentally, after the performance, Mrs. Olinski goes to Sillington House. There she is greeted by her friend, Margaret Draper Diamondstein. Ethan, who has ridden with Mrs. Olinski, steps forward to hug his grandmother. When Izzy Diamondstein comes up to be introduced, Nadia greets him and is enveloped in a hug as well. Watching the touching scene from her wheelchair, Mrs. Olinski is reminded of all that she has lost and is nearly overcome with rage and grief. At that moment, Mr. Singh appears behind her and, pushing her up to the front porch, soothingly announces that he has prepared a tea.
Mr. Singh maneuvers Mrs. Olinski over to a table at the back of the dining room and ceremoniously fills her cup. As she drinks the warm liquid and nibbles at a delicate sandwich, she feels as if a weight is being lifted from her and inexplicably is calmed. Looking around the room, she sees Noah, Nadia, Ethan, and Julian sitting at a table across the way. She is impressed by the kindness they show each other and the obvious pleasure they take in each other's company. Mrs. Olinski recognizes that it is exceedingly unusual "to find four sixth graders who listen to one another [so] sympathetically [and] unselfishly." Suddenly, "as if on signal," the four children look over at Mrs. Olinski, and in that moment, she knows. Julian Singh will be the fourth member of her Academic Team, and, one day, Mrs. Olinski will return to share "another cup of slow tea at Sillington House."