Abbott Elementary is making every Wednesday Back-To-School Night.
The show, currently in its second season, has been making headlines ever since it premiered on December 7, 2021, on ABC. Abbott follows a group of teachers at an underfunded elementary school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, led by the always-optimistic Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson) who experience many misadventures while trying to provide the best education for their students.
In addition to being well-received by fans and critics alike, the show won three Primetime Emmys, including Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series in its first season. Just this month, Abbott took home three awards at the Golden Globes, including Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy, and two at the Critics Choice Awards, once again receiving the award for Best Comedy Series.
There is no denying that Abbott Elementary is revered for its comedy, but between storylines about the Philadelphia Flyers mascot, debates about the best slice of pizza around town, hot air balloon rides, and Andre Iguodala lies something much more important: a conversation about what goes on in schools, especially those in underfunded areas with a large minority demographic.
“There are always ways to insert these larger issues into the picture to get people thinking and talking about what’s going on in schools,” Quinta Brunson said in an interview with TIME Magazine in early 2022. Brunson serves as the show’s creator as well as star.
She also discussed the response that real teachers have had to the show. “They’re hoping it creates some type of change.” Teacher shortages have become more apparent all over the entire US, even in schools that have sufficient funding.
“In underfunded schools, students often must deal with large class sizes [among other things],” Parents 4 Public Schools reports. This exact issue is discussed often in Abbott, including one episode in which Melissa Schemmenti (Lisa Ann Walter), a veteran teacher at the school, struggles with teaching both a second and third grade class at the same time due to a lack of teachers.
While this issue has a comedic spin of its own (Mrs. Schemmenti eventually gets a Teacher’s Aid to help her who ends up distracting the children more than she is helping them), it’s still enough to get the point across: when schools are underfunded, students suffer in one way or another.
According to The Century Foundation, the funding gap for the Philadelphia City School System is almost $1.5 Million, and it would be almost three times that amount of money to close the funding gap over the course of 5 years. With over 130,000 students in this school district, it is impossible to deny that underfunded schools don’t affect many people.
Abbott has covered many aspects of what it’s like to both teach and attend an underfunded school. “Light Bulb” and “Juice” show what happens when the school’s electricity and plumbing systems don’t run as smoothly as they could due to a lack of funding. In “Ava vs. Superintendent” and “Pilot,” audiences watch as the teachers do everything they can to get extra funding from the school district.
But no matter what the struggle is, the teachers always seem able to do the best thing for their kids by the end of the day, even if it’s not as perfect as they’d like it to be. “When you’re the child of a teacher, you get to see teachers – behind the scenes,” said Brunson in an interview with Romper. The appreciation that the sitcom shows for teachers, especially those dealing with an underfunded school system, is insurmountable.
The attention that Abbott Elementary is bringing to the funding issues in public schools is something that no show has ever done before. In addition to its constant laughs and lovable characters, Abbott is reminding us that there is always something bigger we can talk about.
Featured Image Credit: ABC