Why You Should Be Watching Abbott Elementary

Not to suddenly become a POP CULTURE BLOG but I have to tell you about a new sitcom that I am finding a true delight both as a person and as someone who works with young people.

Abbott Elementary is about a group of teachers working in a predominantly Black Philadelphia public school. Created by and starring Quinta Brunson (who you may know from A Black Lady Sketch Show), the teachers do all they can while dealing with a lack of resources to help their students succeed. It’s mockumentary style- think The Office or Parks and Rec- but with LOADS of heart at the center.

I love a good sitcom, but this one is something special. It feels like a more accurate version of working with kids than anything I’ve ever seen, which can be attributed to Quinta basing the show and her character on both her mom, a public school teacher for 40 years, and naming her after her favorite middle school teacher. (The showrunners even used some of the marketing budget to buy supplies for actual teachers!) Now I know that afterschool and the school day have some important differences, but there are some specific reasons I think that anyone who works with young people would love this show.

The teachers at Abbott Elementary adapt to what their students actually need.

The show focuses on the efforts of and relationships between the adult staff of the school, but we’ve already seen plotlines where for whatever reason, the kids needed something they weren’t getting. In one episode, first grade substitute Gregory realizes his students are underperforming in math, and takes to drilling them during recess. I don’t want to spoil anything, but he ultimately harnesses the skills his kids are good at to support their learning here, and it changes the entire mood of his classroom.

In afterschool, we have lots of flexibility to adapt and get creative! We can use esports to teach teamwork, Torch Club to shape leaders, and poetry for literacy and self-expression. It’s about finding what resonates and letting youth lead the way.

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The staff support each other both practically and emotionally.

While there are no shortage of jokes, the teachers and staff at Abbott Elementary always come together to make sure everyone has what they need. In some cases that’s carpet scraps, and in others it’s ideas for helping a struggling student, but regardless they support each other with it all.

At Clubs, we do the same thing! Working with young people is an incredible difficult job, but we keep rising to the challenge and helping each other, both within our Clubhouses with our direct coworkers, and across the Movement in spaces like the BGCA Youth Development Group on Facebook. Not only can we not do it alone, but it is *so much better* when we work together.

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The show doesn’t shy away from difficulties, but balances the hard with the hilarious.

Abbott Elementary is an under resourced school, which ultimately drives several plot points. In one episode, second grade teacher Janine struggles to get a maintenance issue fixed, and causes more trouble when she tries to solve it herself. In another, teachers feel like they have to lean on sob stories to go viral on social media to get supplies they need. Other issues experienced in both the school day and out of school time also crop up. In one episode, Gregory has to stand up to a parent who is consistently late, and in another Janine faces an incredibly disruptive student.

I bet you can identify with every one of these situations! In an interview, Quinta said, “Here you have this school, and people might say, ‘Hey, this is sad. These people should be sad.’ But they’re not. People are so resilient. People find joy. It’s a human thing to do. In this country, Black people are specifically good at finding joy despite the hardships of our living situations, and I thought it was important to be able to show that.”

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Ultimately everyone is there because they care about youth.

There have been other shows or movies that portray teachers or schools, but they tend to either be an over the top inspirational savior kind of story, or cynical and depressing. There are times and places for those, but the reason I love Abbott Elementary so much is that it is so clear that all of these staff truly care about their students. The warmth jumps off the screen!

And as youth development professionals, we are doing the same thing. Showing up each and every day, despite what is going on in the world or in our own lives, because we care about and believe in young people. We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t! And seeing that portrayed through the teachers at Abbott Elementary reminds me to continue being grateful for all of you.

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Literally every time the principal is in a scene I laugh aloud.

And for a reason that isn’t profound whatsoever, the character of Principal Ava Coleman is terrible and should not have her job, but oh man is she absolutely hysterical. I’m sure we’ll see some growth but honestly part of me hopes not because I love her.

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You can watch Abbott Elementary on ABC or on Hulu. It’s a hit with the critics and has increased viewership since it premiered, so fingers crossed for many more seasons!

Note: This post is not sponsored by ABC or the creators of this show. I just love it!

What are your favorite pop culture portrayals of working with youth? What other kinds of media, like books or podcasts, do you think all youth development professionals should check out? Comment below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or email ClubXBlog@bgca.org.

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