From Left: Children’s author D. Wright; 1983 UMES graduate Joyce Abbott, Abbott’s sister, Marilyn Stephens, and UMES President Heidi M. Anderson. (Photo by Steve Ruark for The Baltimore Banner}

When looking back at her time as a student at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Joyce Abbott had nothing but great things to say about her experience.

As a member of the Soul Explosion March Marching Band under the guidance of Rev. Kenneth Martin Sr., the Philadelphia native and 1983 graduate recalled the excitement and campus unity the band provided on the days of football games.

“I was majorette, and we used to slow down the parades we were in, and everyone would just would follow us,” said Abbott, who graduated with a degree in business administration. “I met several wonderful people, and I built really good friendships.”

It also was during her time in Princess Anne where Abbott — who is also the namesake of the hit ABC show Abbott Elementary — took lifelong lessons from her instructors, which shaped her into the teacher she would become for three decades.

“The professors I had were really great,” she said. “They really went above and beyond to make sure that I was successful.”

Abbott shared her experiences on campus and her career in education during the event “An Evening with Joyce Abbott”, hosted by the Baltimore Banner at The Garage at R. House in West Baltimore. UMES was the lead sponsor of the event.

UMES President Heidi M. Anderson speaks during the “Evening with Joyce Abbott” event at The Garage at R. House in West Baltimore. (Photo by Steve Ruark for The Baltimore Banner)

UMES president Heidi M. Anderson, who gave opening remarks for the event, praised Abbott on the impact she had on her students including Abbott Elementary creator Quinta Brunson, who was taught by Abbott as a sixth grader.

“Teaching is a challenging task, but it is also meaningful, valuable, and can be life changing, not only for our students but also for each and every one of us,” Anderson said. “What you achieved from your time at UMES and in your subsequent teaching career is a reflection of the support, commitment, and effort to help change the trajectory of people’s lives.”

Abbott was part of a panel of educational experts that included former Maryland Superintendent of Public Schools, Nancy Grasmick, Brianna Ross, the 2021-2022 Maryland Teacher of the Year, and Derek Chavis, a Baltimore City school teacher. The discussion was moderated by Baltimore Banner education and DEI reporters Kristen Griffith and John-John Williams IV.

During the panel segment, Abbott emphasized that passion and pride she had in education during the topic of whether teachers should be paid more or given incentive pay. Abbott said while teachers should be paid more, there needs to be more accountability for the educators who perform poorly.

Hazel Professor of Education Dr. Richard H. Warren Jr., speaks during the “An Evening with Joyce Abbott” event held at The Garage at R. House in West Baltimore. (Photo by Steve Ruark for The Baltimore Banner)

“There are teachers who had students whose performance was below the basic learning level for years, but kept their jobs,” she said. “If they’re not learning then you as a teacher have to make sacrifices. I made sacrifices by working weekends, getting to school at 7 a.m., tutoring until 6:30 p.m., staying after school until 4:30, 5:00 p.m., and going out to see students during COVID, because I wasn’t going be a teacher that did below basic work.”

UMES professor, Dr. Richard Warren, who was the 2018-19 Maryland Teacher of the Year, closed the event by echoing Abbott’s statement as he recalled lessons he learned throughout his teaching career.

“My mother told me, ‘Never do anything and leave it the same way that you found it.’ We have to leave it better,” Warren said. “When you hear the stories, our stories, that capture the essence of why we choose to show up in these educational spaces and why an education professional should be valued as such. We know we cannot approach this haphazardly. We have to leave it better.”

Abbott added that while she hadn’t been back to campus in a while, she looks forward to attending a homecoming in the near future.

“My time at UMES was an amazing experience,” she said. “This is why I’m a firm believer in HBCUs.”

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