Mike Kennedy

Funny Business

April 4, 2022

Aging infrastructure. Broken down equipment. Poorly maintained facilities. Inadequate funding. Frustrated employees.

Those and other problems plaguing education facilities have been chronicled countless times in American School & University, but now those topics are key elements in a weekly TV comedy.

“Abbott Elementary,” is created by and stars Quinta Brunson as Janine Teagues, a young second-grade teacher trying to maintain her optimism as she confronts the challenges of educating children in a Philadelphia elementary school.

The show succeeds as a comedy—likable, if sometimes exaggerated characters, plenty of jokes, good writing and acting. But along with the laughs, it delivers a serious message: Students are being shortchanged because the schools they attend are underfunded and deteriorating.

That theme caught the attention of the Philadelphia City Council, which passed a resolution to honor Brunson, a native of the city for creating the show.

Abbott Elementary “focuses on the stark resource challenges that Philadelphia schools face,” the resolution said. “In addition to highlighting the inadequacy of classroom supplies and the extraordinary lengths teachers must go to in order to provide what their students need, the show calls attention to staffing and facilities maintenance issues faced by Philadelphia school communities. District schools have multiyear maintenance backlogs and an estimated $5 billion need for repairs and replacements.”

I don’t work in school buildings; I only write about them. But the situations the staff deals with at Abbott Elementary ring true to what I have written about frequently.

In one episode, Janine tries to get someone to repair a flickering light in the corridor. She is told the school will have to wait until an electrician is dispatched. The principal says maybe the fixture can be repaired over the summer. Exasperated by the bureaucratic obstacles in her path, Janine decides to fix it herself, and because this is a comedy, her efforts go awry, and the entire school is plunged into darkness.

But as Janine explains why she tried to repair the hallway light herself, she gave a perfect distillation of why deferred maintenance is such an insidious problem in school facilities across the nation.

It’s a simple statement that those controlling the purse strings should take to heart when they decide whether well-maintained education facilities are worth the cost.

“I don’t want to wait for someone to fix this. Our children have needs that deserve to be met.”



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About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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